2024 Playoffs: East First Round | Knicks (2) vs. 76ers (7)

Knicks-Sixers: 5 takeaways from New York's Game 1 comeback

New York's bench provides an enormous edge in both scoring and rebounding in the series opener.

Mitchell Robinson was a key reason why New York dominated the glass and bench production.

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NEW YORK — Game 1 of the first round series between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers was a roller coaster ride, with both teams erasing deficits of at least 13 points. In the end, it was the Knicks that came out on top, improving to 20-2 (12-0 at home) in games in which they’ve had both Jalen Brunson and OG Anunoby.

Here are some notes, numbers and film from New York’s 111-104 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

1. Embiid throws down, goes down and comes back

The big question of the series quickly went from “how well will Joel Embiid play” to “how much will he play.”

Embiid had the highlight of the night late in the second quarter when he tossed the ball off the backboard to himself, grabbed it with one hand and threw down a dunk over OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson. But Embiid then landed on his left leg, spun around, grabbed his left knee and fell to the floor.

The left knee, of course, is the same one which required meniscus surgery in February, causing Embiid to miss 29 straight games. He went to the locker room with 2:37 left in the half and things looked pretty bleak for the Sixers, who trailed by 12 at the break to the only undefeated team (28-0) in games it led by at least five points at halftime.

And then Embiid emerged from the locker room shortly before the third quarter began. After Philly missed a shot on its first possession of the second half, it proceeded to score 32 points on its next 15 trips down the floor, turning a 14-point deficit into six-point lead.

Embiid also provided the highlight of that run, an absolute dime to Kelly Oubre Jr. on the break.

Joel Embiid assist to Kelly Oubre Jr.

Alas, while the Sixers won the first and third quarters by a total of 24 points (70-46), they lost the second and fourth by a total of 31 (65-34).

Embiid’s 36:33 of playing time was a little less than he logged in the Sixers’ Play-In victory on Wednesday, but still his second-highest total in the seven games he’s played since returning from injury.

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse didn’t have a postame update on Embiid, who chose not to speak with the media after the game.

2. Knicks’ new bench comes up big

The Knicks’ midseason trade for Anunoby provided an upgrade to their starting lineup, but the departure of Immanuel Quickley was a hit to what was the league’s sixth-ranked bench at the time of the trade. Josh Hart moving into the starting lineup in place of the injured Julius Randle on Jan. 29 was another hit.

From that point on, the Knicks’ bench ranked 19th and the team was outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Jalen Brunson off the floor. They traded for Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks at the deadline, and their minutes were not good.

But the Knicks’ bench was huge in Game 1. The starting lineup was outscored by 18 points in a little less than 16 minutes on Saturday, but New York outscored Philly by 25 in a little more than 32 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor.

Only three reserves played, but they all played big. Miles McBride scored 21 points in 28 minutes, shooting 5-for-7 from 3-point range. He closed the game instead of Donte DiVincenzo and made a big pull-up 3 to put the Knicks up five with 7:37 left.

“It’s not just the shot-making,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said about McBride’s performance. “But it’s the energy. It’s the defense. It’s the hustle. That goes a long way.”

Like McBride, Robinson played the entire fourth quarter. He finished with 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and four blocks in 30 minutes, easily the most he’s played in 11 games since returning from an extended absence. He grabbed a big offensive rebound and tipped in his own miss to put the Knicks up four with 4:25 left.

Bogdanovic had 13 points and seven boards in less than 25 minutes, with his biggest moments (two 3-pointers) coming when the Knicks began the second quarter on an 11-2 run with Brunson off the floor.

3. Knicks dominate the glass again

Last season, the Knicks ranked second in offensive rebounding percentage and then destroyed the Cleveland Cavaliers on the glass in their first round series. This season, they led the league in offensive rebound percentage, and they destroyed the Sixers on the glass in Game 1.

Philly grabbed 24 defensive rebounds. New York grabbed 23 offensive rebounds. When you count rebounds that went out of bounds and loose-ball fouls, the Knicks had an offensive rebounding percentage of 51.8%, the second-highest mark for any team in a game this season.

Led by Robinson, four Knicks (including the 6-foot-4 Hart) had at least four offensive boards. Anunoby had just one, but it was a particularly vicious one that resulted in a bucket for Brunson:

OG Anunoby rebound, Jalen Brunson basket

“We prioritize [offensive rebounds],” Thibodeau said. “The nights in which we’re not shooting well, they give us a chance.”

The Sixers had the better half-court offense on Saturday, but it was 27-11 Knicks on fast break points and 26-8 on second chance points, with those 26 second chance points being the most the Sixers have allowed this season.

4. Teammates reward Brunson for making the right plays

Brunson did not have his best shooting game. The Sixers defended him with size (Oubre and Nicolas Batum were his primary defenders) and showed him extra bodies when he drove. The All-NBA candidate finished with 22 points on 8-for-26 shooting, also committing five turnovers.

But Brunson made the right plays late. With the Knicks up three and just two minutes left, the Sixers’ janky zone was shaded his way, with Tyrese Maxey on the ball and Oubre beyond the nail. Brunson didn’t force things and instead swung the ball to Hart, who drained a huge 3 to double the lead:

Jalen Brunson assist to Josh Hart

The lead was back down to four on the next possession when Brunson was doubled on the right side of the floor. He then fired a skip pass to the left wing, where Anunoby drained another 3:

Jalen Brunson assist to OG Anunoby

While Brunson shot 1-for-6 from 3-point range, his teammates were 15-for-29 (52%). It’s a make-or-miss league and the Knicks are now 38-6 (third best) when they’ve outscored their opponent from beyond the arc.

5. Embiid settles too much

Embiid had a couple of strong post ups in Game 1, as well as a couple of good reactions when the Knicks sent a double-team. But too often, his catches were 25 feet from the basket. And too often, he settled for long jumpers instead of trying to get inside:

Joel Embiid airball 3-pointer

Embiid was 11-for-12 from the free throw line, but just 8-for-22 from the field, including 4-for-16 from outside the restricted area.

His presence alone means a lot. But if Embiid isn’t more effective going forward, the Sixers are in trouble.

Game 2 is Monday (7:30 ET, TNT).

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X. 

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