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

Knicks-Sixers: 5 takeaways from New York's miraculous Game 2 rally

Philadelphia had Game 2 won, but New York refuses to be denied as it claws back from 5 points down in the final 27 seconds.

Full Focus: Knicks take 2-0 series lead in dramatic fashion.

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NEW YORK — It was 29 years ago that Reggie Miller scored eight points in 8.9 seconds in this same building, a brutal memory for the New York Knicks and their fans.

They didn’t quite get full redemption in Game 2 of their first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers, but eight points in 20.4 seconds – on the opposite end of the floor of Miller’s heroics –was enough for the Knicks to turn a five-point deficit into a three-point victory on Monday.

On the other side, it was a painful sequence for the Sixers, who had come back from eight points down early in the fourth quarter and seemingly had the game in hand.

Here are some notes, quotes, numbers and film as the series heads to Philadelphia with the Knicks up 2-0.

1. A miraculous sequence turns it around for the Knicks

Before things got wild, Kyle Lowry was fouled in the backcourt and had the opportunity to put the Sixers up six with 47.3 seconds left. But he split his two free throws, making it just a five-point game.

Lowry has shot 86% from the line over the last four seasons, and the Sixers were the second-best free throw shooting team in the regular season (82.6%). But they were just 16-for-22 (72.7%) on Monday, with Joel Embiid going 8-for-12. Philly has shot worse than 73% from the line just 11 times (in 85 total games) this season, and three of those 11 instances have come at Madison Square Garden.

Then the madness began:

  • Brunson was stripped, but Donte DiVincenzo grabbed the ball back from Lowry.
  • DiVincenzo eventually found Brunson in the left corner, and Brunson’s side-step 3-pointer bounced high off the rim and through the net to make it a two-point game with 27.0 seconds left.
  • Tyrese Maxey fumbled Lowry’s inbounds pass, perhaps because he was held by Brunson. He managed to reach up and grab the ball, but wasn’t on balance and hit the floor. Josh Hart then took the ball away.

Sixers coach Nick Nurse claimed afterward that he called timeout twice, once before the ball was inbounded and again when Maxey was on the floor. But upon review of the film, it looked like he was hesitating to call what would have been the Sixers’ final timeout in the first instance. And after Maxey hit the floor, it was just a split-second before Hart took the ball away:

Knicks steal ball from Tyrese Maxey

  • Hart got the ball to DiVincenzo, who missed a wide-open, left-wing 3 for the lead. But Isaiah Hartenstein crashed from the perimeter and went untouched as he leapt and grabbed the offensive rebound (more on that below).
  • Hartenstein was swarmed, but managed to get the ball to OG Anunoby, who passed it to DiVincenzo at the top of the arc. Nicolas Batum closed out hard, but DiVincenzo drained a long 3 for the lead with 13.1 on the clock.

Winning in this league is hard. And the Sixers found out, well … the hard way in Game 2.

2. Win the rebounding battle, win the game

The Knicks absolutely destroyed the Sixers on the glass in Game 1, turning 23 offensive rebounds into 26 second-chance points. The Sixers did a much better job in Game 2, with New York totaling 12 offensive rebounds and just 12 second-chance points.

But Philly needed those numbers to be 11 and nine. Even despite the backcourt turnover, they win the game if they get a body on Hartenstein and rebound DiVincenzo’s initial miss:

Isaiah Hartenstein rebound, Donte DiVincenzo 3-pointer

In the end, the Sixers collected 49.1% of the available rebounds on Monday.

“If we win the rebounding battle in that game,” Maxey said, “we win the game.”

3. The Sixers’ MVP is Tyrese Maxey

The final sequence ruined an incredible game from Maxey, who finished with 35 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists. This came after a 33-point performance in Game 1 on Saturday, and after he fell ill between games.

The Sixers listed their point guard as questionable for Monday, but he did what was necessary to play (“I really can’t stand taking medicine,” he said). He played more than 44 minutes and was the best player on the floor.

The Knicks simply have not found an answer for Maxey, who’s found many ways to beat them.

Rejecting screens:

Tyrese Maxey drive

Setting screens himself:

Tyrese Maxey screen and drive

Cutting back door when he’s being top-blocked:

Tyrese Maxey back door cut

He really turned it up in that fourth quarter, when he poured in 15 points as the Sixers scored 27 on their first 18 possessions to take that five-point lead.

If the Knicks stopped his initial push, Maxey was looking to get the ball back and try again:

Tyrese Maxey pull-up jumper

“The last 15 minutes,” Nurse said, “he was really chasing it down, turning on the jets and slamming on brakes, doing all the things he can do time and time again.”

4. Brunson continues to struggle from the field

The Sixers often tried to get Brunson matched up with Maxey. And on the other end of the floor, the Knicks tried the same. But Brunson, despite that late 3 that bounced in, wasn’t as successful, and he’s now 16-for-55 (29%) in the series.

Yes, that’s 55 shots in just two games.

The All-NBA candidate is obviously the focus of the Sixers’ defense. They’re not double-teaming him, but they’re shading his way, especially if he gets the Maxey switch. And if he gets into the paint, a second Philly defender will abandon his man to contest Brunson’s shot.

That attention is the biggest reason why Hart (who played 48 minutes on Monday) has attempted 15 3-pointers in the two games. That he’s made eight of those 15 is one of the biggest reasons the Knicks are up 2-0.

Brunson could probably be passing more as his shot chart is not an efficient one, with 37 of his 55 shots (67%) having come from between the restricted area and the 3-point line. That rate is up from 51% in the regular season.

5. Hartenstein comes up big

Embiid wasn’t super efficient (34 points on 12-for-29 shooting), but was better offensively on Monday than he was in Game 1. And the Sixers have now outscored the Knicks by 17 points in his 76 minutes in the series, getting outscored by 27 (72.7 per 100 possessions) in his 20 minutes off the floor.

Hartenstein wasn’t Embiid’s equal in Game 2, but he was everything the Knicks needed at the five, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds (including the one that led to DiVincenzo’s go-ahead 3), four assists and four blocks.

Eight of those points came on four absolutely huge push shots in the final 15 minutes to provide an outlet for the Knicks ballhandlers who drew attention from Embiid.

And after DiVincenzo’s 3-pointer put the Knicks up one, Hartenstein was able to stay with Maxey and block his layup to essentially seal the win for the Knicks:

He’s not the MVP, and he’s a little less valuable with Mitchell Robinson back after a 3 1/2 month absence. But Hartenstein has been incredibly important for the Knicks this season and in this series.

The series isn’t over yet. These have been two tightly-contested games and the Sixers now head home, where they’re 20-5 with Embiid in the lineup. Game 3 is Thursday (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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