Those surprising Philadelphia 76ers (8-2) were back at The Center hosting the New York Knicks (6-4) on Monday night. Philly wanted to extend its winning streak to 7 games. The Knicks were looking to right their wrongs from a loss to the Cavaliers on Sunday night. The Sixers ran out of juice late to fall short of a 19-point comeback, and took a 103-96 loss to snap their winning streak.
Before we get to what I saw, allow me to set the scene.
Mitchell Robinson was unavailable for the Knicks as he continues to nurse a hip flexor. Luka Samanic (Two-Way) was on assignment with the Knicks’ G-League affiliate and was unavailable.
Tom Thibodeau started Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Nerlens Noel.
The following were in the league’s health and safety protocol and were unavailable for the Sixers:
- Joel Embiid
- Embiid entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol on Monday afternoon, according to Shams Charania.
- As Charania later noted, Embiid could avoid missing significant time if he registers two negative COVID tests in a 24-hour period over the coming days. However, the expectation is that the star big man will miss at least 10 days.
- Before the game, head coach Doc Rivers shed an ominous light on the possibility that Embiid could return quickly, saying, “He’s not doing great. He’s struggling with it, very similar to Tobias.”
- Tobias Harris
- Matisse Thybulle
- Isaiah Joe
Ben Simmons missed the game due to personal reasons. Grant Riller, who is recovering from a torn meniscus in his left knee, was unavailable for the Sixers.
Danny Green made his return to the lineup after missing 3 games due to tightness in his left hamstring.
Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, and Andre Drummond.
For my money, Andre Drummond has been an incredibly effective backup to Joel Embiid at the veteran’s minimum. However, some of the layups he misses are maddening. Regardless of whether he catches the ball on the move or right below the rim, he leaves far too many points on the board for a big with no perimeter touch.
He’s never been an incredible athlete, so perhaps that contributes to his leaving the ball in suspense on the rim instead of finishing should-be dunks for a guy of his bulk. However, a center in his prime — and one that is not too far removed from All-Star status — should not be leaving as many points on the board as Drummond does.
Perhaps it was rust, but Danny Green had a number of bad close-outs on New York’s shooters. The issue wasn’t that they were necessarily reckless. He wasn’t a foul risk on any of them. Rather, he was very eager to bite B-list fakes or fakes that weren’t even necessarily there yet.
Green was essentially anticipating shots would go up, but the shot wasn’t going up. It’s always good to pressure the shooter, but poor close-outs lead to swing passes. When you close-out with inappropriate force, it makes it that much more difficult to recover to the swing pass. Fortunately for Philadelphia, the Knicks weren’t making them pay until late in the first frame.
Georges Niang was ready to shoot the second he walked into the building on Monday. But, the economic shots weren’t falling early on. But besides his usual consistency from deep, the thing that really separates what he brings to the table from what Mike Scott did is his ability to put the ball on the floor. Niang is an analytics darling from the Utah Jazz system. So, he’s either letting it rip from three-point range or taking you to the rim as best a guy with the nickname “Minivan” can do.
When the threes weren’t cashing in on Monday, he was getting downhill and scoring on floaters in the paint. Having a stretch-four that isn’t a one-trick pony is a breath of fresh air for any team. Having one that is self-aware enough to recognize that the outside shots aren’t falling and go to his other tools is priceless.
Aside from the occasional back-breaking three, the Knicks really hurt the Sixers at the rim. All of the Knicks — from guards to bigs — were bodying their Sixer counterparts in the paint. They were rewarded for their efforts, too, scoring at the rim with ease. Hemorrhaging points at the rim, the Sixers found the flood gates opening on them rapidly.
The one bright spot for Philly in the first half was Furkan Korkmaz. It felt like the other four Sixers on the court — whether it be off of a perimeter swing or a short-roll feed from a screener — found Korkmaz on the weak side of the floor almost every time the ball found its way to the middle of the floor. Korkmaz capitalized on the looks, too. He splashed home four triples in the first half and led the Sixers with 16 points at halftime.
Nerlens Noel did not return to the game after suffering a knee injury in the first half. Korkmaz fell and landed into the knee, sending the center to the ground writhing in pain before heading to the locker room on a timeout as soon as the Knicks got possession of the ball again. Taj Gibson started in his place in the second half.
The Sixers would’ve been down by about 30 if the Knicks made them pay for mostly terrible three-point defense. Fatigue is inevitable when you’re this short-handed. But, the Sixers were barely getting hands in the air space of New York’s shooters, often giving practice shots from deep if the Knicks made the extra passes out of the pick-and-roll or off weak-side swings. Miscommunication, a lack of burst to close-out — whatever you want to call it — the Sixers were doing the bare minimum on defense. For a team that is 8-2, that screams fatigue.
Taj Gibson — sparring for rebounding position and all — has never committed a foul in his life. Of course, that’s if you ask him.
The Knicks were in control for almost all of the first half. For a second, you almost forgot that they were battling on the second leg of a back-to-back. And like any team in that context — especially a Thibodeau-led team — they eventually got tired. That was when Philly made their run. Triples from Danny Green and Seth Curry — amid a significant push from Philly — cut New York’s lead to 3 points heading into the fourth quarter.
There’s obviously a fatigue disparity at play when one team isn’t on the second leg of a back-to-back and the other one is. But, Philly is arguably the most under-manned team in the league right now. That they were able to make a push in this game against an almost-fully-staffed, huge Knicks team is a testament to both the Sixers’ depth this season and the culture that Rivers has established with this group. They’re resilient as all hell, and they (mostly) stay true to their collective identity.
The Sixers simply could not get the game-tying shots to fall in the guts of the game. Philly put together an extremely admirable effort to fight back in this contest and keep it close. But in the end, they simply didn’t have enough reliable bodies to push across the finish line on top on Monday.
I was critical of Andre Drummond’s finishing around the rim in the first quarter, and it didn’t get much better as the game went on. But, he certainly deserves his props as a rim-protector and rebounder in this game. Not only did he alter a number of shots around the basket, but the big man reeled in 25 rebounds on the night. Heck of an effort.
Okay, pet peeve time: I have no problem with fans supporting their team on the road. But, act like you’ve been there before. The Knicks were virtually fully available and barely outlasted a Sixers squad that was just struggling to suit guys. It’s a victory, congratulations, but I don’t see any Larry O’Briens being presented tonight.
The Sixers (8-3) will host the Milwaukee Bucks (4-6) on Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM EST. You can catch the game on TNT.