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3 observations after another Joel Embiid injury, Sixers’ tight Game 1 loss to Knicks – NBC Sports Philadelphia

NEW YORK – The Sixers opened their postseason Saturday night at Madison Square Garden by losing a heartbreaking, back-and-forth matchup with the Knicks.

They trail 1–0 in their first round play-off series after losing 111–104.

Joel Embiid played 37 minutes despite yet another major injury (more on that below) and recorded 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Tyrese Maxey had 33 points and four assists.

Knicks star Jalen Brunson recorded 22 points on 8-for-26 shooting, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Josh Hart scored 22 points and 13 rebounds. Miles McBride scored 21 points and shot 5 for 7 from three-point range.

The Sixers were without De’Anthony Melton (back injury recovery) and Robert Covington (left knee contusion). All-Star Knicks forward Julius Randle is out for the season after surgery on his right shoulder.

Game 2 starts Monday at 7:30 PM ET. Here are observations on the Sixers’ Game 1 loss:

Embiid, Sixers throw a strong first punch

The Sixers were thrilled to no longer have to face the Heat Zone defense that had bewildered them in their comeback play-in tournament win on Wednesday.

Embiid set a great tone, hurting the Knicks from both the perimeter and interior. He made a trailing, top-of-the-key three-pointer for the Sixers’ first bucket, converted two early hoops and one inside hoop and scored the team’s first nine points of the night.

When the Knicks were double-teamed with Embiid in the middle of the floor, he diagnosed the situation and gave up the ball. The Sixers worked around it until Tobias Harris drained a corner three. That shot alone put Harris over his scoring total from his March 12 performance at the Garden.

A Maxey triple from his two-man play with Embiid lifted the Sixers to a 17-7 lead. They started as a team 6 for 7 from the floor.

The Knicks were selective early on in throwing help defenders at Embiid, frequently relying on Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson to hold their own against him. Nearly every Embiid touch resulted in something positive for the Sixers in the first quarter. Shortly after Robinson came on, Embiid attacked him from the post and connected for a layup. Two plays later, Embiid served Kelly Oubre Jr. in the right corner and the duo performed a slick give and go.

All told, Embiid finished the first period with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, three rebounds and two assists.

Another huge scare

Unlike the Sixers, New York opened 3 for 15 from the field. Rebound was the best aspect of their offense early on. The NBA’s best offensive team this season scored seven quick second-chance points.

Oubre was expected to start over Brunson. However, the Knicks worked to create switches and get Brunson more desirable matchups. For example, they used a double drag to force Maxey Brunson to defend. Nicolas Batum was next up on Brunson, staying close to the All-Star guard’s body, trying to limit his touches. Batum picked up where he left off on Wednesday, sinking a catch-and-shoot wing three on his first touch.

Overall, the Knicks’ second unit was decisively superior to the Sixers’ in the first half. Bojan Bogdanovic and McBride each knocked down two long-distance jumpers during a surge in New York and the score was even 40 when Embiid came on again. The Knicks’ three-man bench scored 26 points in the first half, including 16 by McBride. He hit his fourth triple late in the second quarter and the Knicks went into halftime with a twelve-point lead.

Embiid’s fear of injury easily surpassed anything that came before it.

He delivered a spectacular highlight late in the second period, throwing an alley-oop to himself off the board and landing a thunderous slam. Embiid then almost immediately fell to the ground and placed both hands on his head.

During the ensuing timeout, Embiid raised his left knee and was attended to by the Sixers’ training staff. Finally, he got up and walked gingerly back to the Sixers’ locker room under his own power.

Although Paul Reed appeared ready to start the second half, Embiid walked back onto the court with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter. In a very similar set of events to the Sixers’ penultimate regular season game against the Magic, Embiid went the entire second half after a seriously concerning play.

“Going in at halftime, I knew they were checking on him and he was moving,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said after the game. ‘And they did say, ‘We see…’ They didn’t rule him out yet. So it took until the end to get him back in so he could play.”

The nurse had no further concrete details about Embiid.

“Just like after every game, we will assess him and see how he is doing,” he said.

Embiid himself did not speak to reporters about the record-breaking postgame.

Saturday’s scare would have been deeply concerning under any circumstances, but Embiid’s history meant that almost any grim thought was reasonable. The reigning MVP has had injury issues in every postseason he has played besides 2020. Game 1 was only his seventh appearance since returning from the left meniscus injury that sidelined him for the entire month of February and March.

His teammates appreciated Embiid’s decision to keep playing.

“It’s hard to see your brother die,” Maxey said. “You just kind of feel for him, pray for him and hope he’s doing well. I was happy to see him when we got back to the locker room, and he said he would go back out and give it a try. So hats off to his determination and his will to win.”

Knicks pick up Brunson, press link jumpers

Starting guards Kyle Lowry and Maxey played big roles in the Sixers destroying the Knicks’ lead.

Lowry (18 points) hit a three and fouled Hartenstein while shooting from behind the arc. Maxey elevated his game in the third quarter with plenty of layups and an impressive rear-view block on Brunson.

The Sixers continued their diligent work on Brunson and had continued their zone defense success against New York in the second half. While Embiid’s movements were labored at times, he played effective defense in the backline, allowing his teammates to be aggressive and also make several offensive highlights.

He grabbed a steal, started a fast break and threw a sensational one-handed bounce pass to Oubre for a dunk.

The Knicks’ offensive rebound stuck with the Sixers. New York finished the game with a whopping 23 offensive boards and the Sixers struggled to complete good defensive possessions.

Lowry grabbed an offensive rebound for the Sixers and set up an open Buddy Hield three, but Hield (zero points on 0-for-2 shooting) fell short. Batum also missed a pair of inviting three-point attempts early in the fourth quarter.

Brunson’s elbow jump over Batum built the Knicks’ lead to 98-92. Embiid settled for two consecutive jump shots and neither went down. And while he was more forceful on the Sixers’ next possession, Robinson stopped Embiid on the block.

However, the match was not over yet; Embiid won a jump ball vs. Robinson, Maxey buried a crucial three, and the Sixers trailed by just three points with two minutes left.

The game came down to whether the Knicks around Brunson could make the tight three-point looks available. Indeed they could.

Hart and OG Anunoby threw clutch jumpers down the stretch, including a highly contested, tip-your-cap three from Hart, and the Knicks grabbed a wild series opener.

“Even in the heart of the game — throw all this stuff in the trash — we had three wide open threes at three and then went up six,” Nurse said. “I didn’t make one and they made three in a row. There’s a million other things going on out there, and that defines it in a way.

“But I talked at half-time and I was confident we were going to fight. We’ve made some adjustments. I thought we did an excellent job offensively for almost the entire second half. We obviously did a little better defensively. We had some really good assets. And even the possessions that earned them their last four threes, I’m not sure I take those possessions back. I think we did what we wanted to do there.”