Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The Philadelphia 76ers (29-13) embarked on a six-game road trip with a stop in New York on Sunday night to face the Knicks (21-21). The Sixers were looking to establish a winning streak after disposing of the Kings on Saturday night in Philly. The Knicks had similar plans in mind after outlasting the Orlando Magic on Thursday. The Sixers, despite some awful execution, were able to outlast the Knicks in overtime, 101-100, after Julius Randle’s game-winning shot spun out of the basket as time expired.

Before we get to the action, some notes.

Contextual Notes

Ben Simmons returned to the lineup after missing Saturday’s game with a sore left knee. Seth Curry remained sidelined through the weekend after spraining his left ankle on Wednesday against the Bucks. Joel Embiid remained out with a bone bruise on his left knee, although, according to Shams Charania, he is recovering quicker than anticipated. Doc Rivers started Simmons, Furkan Korkmaz, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Tony Bradley.

Mitchell Robinson was available for the Knicks after recovering from surgery on his right hand. Austin Rivers (personal) and Derrick Rose (health and safety protocols) were not available for the Knicks. Tom Thibodeau started Immanuel Quickley, Reggie Bullock, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Nerlens Noel.

First Half

The Sixers did a superb job of identifying problem areas on the offensive end early in the game and adjusting their strategy to counter what the Knicks were showing on defense. Early, the offense was flowing through Simmons in the post. Once it became clear that Simmons wrestling with Randle in the post was not going to be conducive to efficient offense, the Sixers started to play a bit differently. Recognizing that the Knicks were doing a great job of denying the first option, they countered by making first and second passes. The Knicks were not ready for that, and the lag time on adjusting allowed Korkmaz to contribute three unguarded triples as part of a 15-0 run in the first quarter.

Could A Trade Be In The Works?

Tyrese Maxey was the beneficiary of first quarter minutes for the first time in quite a while. After Saturday’s victory, Rivers described the rookie’s play as “up-and-down”. It would hardly have been predictable that Maxey would register minutes in the first quarter of a non-blowout. Seeing as the trade deadline is just four days away, one wonders whether the playing time was intended to serve as a showcase for teams with which the Sixers are trying to construct deals. There very well may have been a matchup that Rivers liked for Maxey, but suddenly rewarding a rookie guard with real minutes the week of the trade deadline lends itself to speculation.

“But, talking to coach and listening to the coaches, it’s all about making the right play.”

I didn’t touch on this nearly enough last night, but Shake Milton seems to be rediscovering the confidence that he had last season and earlier this season. The three-point shot is still flat, but he’s been very effective around the rim and from the midrange over the last game-and-a-half. Obviously, that’s a laughable sample size. But, he’s been much more decisive in that sample size. Even if shots aren’t falling, the Sixers desperately need an aggressive shot-hunter off the bench. Aside from lob passes to Dwight Howard or another big diving to the rim, he’s not nearly crafty or polished enough as a passer to have an impact by just facilitating for teammates. Milton’s greatest service is surveying the best opportunity to score the ball whenever he has it in his hands, at least for the current iteration of the Sixers.

After the game, Milton touched upon his mentality. “I feel like I can score. But, talking to coach and listening to the coaches, it’s all about making the right play. So, it doesn’t matter who’s shooting the ball or who’s scoring the ball as long as we’re putting points on the board and then getting stops on the defensive end. So, I try to carry it that way.”

“We look at Danny like a stable individual that just comes to play night after night.”

Danny Green couldn’t get much of anything going on the offensive end, but he was critical to the Sixers leading for the vast majority of the first half. Green recorded three steals and three blocks in fifteen minutes before intermission. While he did not score a singular point, he was active in generating run-outs for the Sixers and altering attempts from the Knicks. He had a hand in generating a number of the open looks the Sixers got. While Green’s ability to get shots isn’t consistently there, he’s far more impactful than given credit for and would be a significant subtraction if included in a deal as Thursday approaches.

Harris praised Green’s stability after the victory. “We look at Danny like a stable individual that just comes to play night after night,” Harris said. “Gives us great effort. As you saw tonight just made some big plays and that has a domino effect for the other guys to see on the team.”

Second Half

I am very fascinated by Dwight Howard’s sudden self-empowerment in attempting long jumpers. I generally have no qualms with Howard taking long twos as long as they’re within the rhythm of the offense. Obviously, you don’t want him trying to do too much or forcing such shots. But, if he’s catching them in space, it’s ridiculous of anyone to denounce such shots if they’re something he’s practicing. For now, he’s cashing them in. Let it fly.

Regardless of who Maxey plays for after the deadline, one of the things that has continuously impressed me about him is that he has never avoided the rim despite rarely ever getting foul calls. There will be times when he fades a bit as he goes up for finishes. But, he’s prolific in applying downhill pressure on the rim with bursts towards the rim. Even if he makes a play for someone else or doesn’t get his own shot to go down, he’s not dribbling aimlessly. He has never been fearful of the basket and forces defenses to either block his shots or give up points at the rim. As he gets older, he’ll grow adept at drawing fouls and earn those calls. At this point, however, he’s not getting the benefit of any whistles, and it’s not inhibiting his mindset at all.

Under The Radar

With Simmons and Harris on the bench, Mike Scott stepped up when the Sixers desperately needed a bigger body to apply weight against Randle in the post. Scott isn’t exactly nimble on his feet and is quite prone to defending with his arms instead of keeping his body in front of offensive players. Nonetheless, he was effective in making things difficult for Randle. He stopped him from taking over the game at a time when he easily could’ve with both Simmons and Harris resting.

“No one moved, no one cut.”

Harris post-ups became the vehicle to closing the game out for the Sixers. Some nights, it’s quite effective. This was not one of those nights. A key cog in that success is who else is on the court with Harris. It’s not necessarily the binary of whether or not the shot goes in. In this particular circumstance, Rivers elected to close regulation with both Simmons and Thybulle. That makes sense on the defensive end. But, featuring those two in the closing unit and then running offense through Harris post-ups makes little sense.

The Knicks are a very good defensive team. They were happy to gamble on Harris making crafty passes to the abandoned man in an effort to double Harris in the post. Harris is not accustomed to being doubled as a member of the Sixers. The lack of exposure to that pressure showed mightily in the closing stages of the game. The Harris post-ups are fine and even encouraged under other circumstances. But, utilizing those touches as a hub with two non-shooters is inviting problems.

Rivers favored the defensive prowess that that lineup presented. “It’s not football, so we obviously didn’t have a chance to sub back and forth,” Rivers said. “I thought our defense was more important at that point. We had to leave to get stops and, honestly, our rotations in those traps were horrendous, like they really were. No one moved, no one cut. So, I told our guys they were very lucky that I got to go see Austin [Rivers] and my new grandbaby. I was in a very zen mood today. Because this is one of those games that you don’t know how many mistakes we made in the last five minutes of the game.”

March Madness

Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to the opposition. Harris botched a pair of free throws that would’ve iced the victory. But, he defended Randle beautifully on the final play of regulation. Again, give Randle credit. He got an impossible bounce on a corner triple to tie the game and send the affair into overtime.

There’s not always a reasonable explanation for the outcomes of these games. Sometimes, the outcome hangs on the spin of the ball as it kisses the rim. Sometimes basketball is poetic. Tobias Harris was the subject of much dismay after the fashion in which regulation concluded. But, he sunk two free throws to put the Sixers up by one point with five seconds left in overtime. It has felt like the basketball gods, for the most part, have been on the Sixers’ side this season. They answered another prayer for Philadelphia. Randle’s game-winning shot kissed the inside of the rim before spinning out, sealing the Sixers’ thirtieth victory of the season.

The Sixers (30-13) will head out West for the last five games of their road trip. The first stop is in Golden State. They will tip off with the Warriors at 10 PM EST (perfect!). You can catch the action on TNT.