Game Recap: Knicks 107, 76ers 97
A 30-point fourth-quarter deficit proved to be too much for the 76ers (1-27) to overcome Friday night at The Center. Despite the Sixers ultimately outscoring New York (13-14) by 11 points in the final frame, the Knicks had enough insurance to keep the Sixers at bay. The 107-97 victory was New York’s second in as many meetings with the Sixers this season, and third in a row overall in the series.
Jahlil Okafor continued his recent string of strong play, leading the Sixers with 20 points. He converted nine of 17 field goal attempts, and reached the 20-point mark the fifth time in six games. During this stretch, the first-year center is averaging 21.3 points. Tony Wroten scored 15 points, his highest total in six appearances since returning from his right knee ACL tear. Richaun Holmes remained productive in a reserve role, flushing 10 points behind four dunks.
New York’s veteran core of Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, and Robin Lopez helped the Knicks seize control of the contest mid-way through the opening quarter. None of those three players returned to the floor following the third quarter, with New York firmly in command. Anthony relied on his free throw shooting, going eight for nine from the stripe, to post 16 points. Afflalo, in his first season with the Knicks, tallied a game-best 22 points.
For the first time in their professional careers, Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis lined up opposite one another in a regular season game. The two big men were selected third and fourth overall, respectively, in the 2015 NBA Draft. While both rookies are frontcourt players, their roles vary within the context of their teams. Okafor assumes center duties for the Sixers. Porzingis, meanwhile, is the Knicks’ top power forward.
Still, there were a few stretches during Friday’s game when, with New York using a smaller five-man line-up, Okafor and Porzingis matched up against each other. In this second-quarter highlight, Okafor relies on impactful footwork to beat Porzingis to the bucket.
Brett Brown Said - On how the Sixers' coaching staff evaluates Jahlil Okafor on a game-in, game-out basis:
"Subtle things. Screen-setting. We’re watching his trips up and down the floor and the speed that he’s running, judging how much can we get out of him. Understanding how to navigate kind of behind a backboard at times and create space."
Nerlens Noel was back on the court for the first time in three games. He had missed the Sixers’ past two outings with a left corneal abrasion, which he sustained last Sunday when the team was in Toronto to visit the Raptors.
Despite sporting protective eyewear during warm-ups, Noel decided to ditch the specs for the game itself. If there were any lingering effects from the injury, they didn’t show. Noel got involved immediately, delivering a driving lay-up 13 seconds into the tilt. Throughout the night, Noel played with energy on both ends of the floor. He was perfect from the field, going 4-4 en route to notching eight points. He also equaled a season-high with three blocks, including an emphatic stuff of Robin Lopez in the third quarter. Here’s a look at the play:
When the Sixers and New York squared off for the first time on December 2nd, Jahlil Okafor was unavailable to play, as he had started serving his team-imposed two-game suspension that night. As a result, the anticipated opportunity to see both him and Kristaps Porzingis face each for the first time in a regular season game was put on hold, until Friday.
“I’m pretty excited,” Porzingis said Friday morning, following the Knicks’ shoot-around. “First time, I didn’t get to play against him because he was out. This time, he’s playing. I think it’s the first time since summer league I’ve played against him, so I think it will be fun.”
Back in that summer league confrontation on July 18th in Las Vegas, Okafor racked up 18 points and six rebounds. Porzingis finished with nine points, three boards, and three blocked shots.
“He’s a very good offensive player,” said Porzingis. “His post game is really, really at a high level. It’s really hard to stop him in the post. So my strategy was to front him, just be running around him so he can’t really receive the ball, and once he receives it, that’s really hard to stop him. I try to use my length to block his shots.”
Friday, there were only a few instances in which Okafor and Porzingis were matched up individually. Okafor has played exclusively at center this campaign, whereas Porzingis’ primary position is power forward. On Wednesday, Porzingis and New York hosted Minnesota and Karl-Anthony Towns, the top overall selection this June, and, like Okafor and Porzingis, an NBA Rookie of the Year candidate.
“I don’t try to measure myself with those guys,” Porzingis said, referring to Okafor and Towns. “We’re just trying to do our best for our individual teams. We’re not really trying to compete with each other. But obviously, I’m following how they’re doing, and they’re probably following how I’m doing, and I’m happy that those guys are putting up numbers and helping their team win.”
The Brothers Grant were at it again Friday, playing against each other for the second time in their professional careers. In the first go-round between the two at Madison Square Garden on December 2nd, New York’s Jerian Grant had the upper hand, contributing a career-tying 12 points in the Knicks’ 99-87 victory. Jerami Grant, two years younger in age than Jerian, but one year more seasoned in terms of NBA experience, had six points, four rebounds, and three blocks that night.
At The Center on Friday, Jerian, who was a coach’s decision scratch in the Knicks’ past two contests, finished with four points, two rebounds, and two assists in 22 minutes. Jerami threw down a pair of dunks in the final five minutes of regulation, tallying eight points in all.
Speaking about his younger sibling’s skill set before the game, Jerian Grant, a point guard, said that Jerami, a forward, is at his best in “transition for sure.”
Jerian continued, “When you have somebody that’s long, athletic, and lanky like that, getting him in the open floor where he has space to move would be great. Getting him as a mismatch, letting him play the three and the four [positions], being able to, if he goes against some of those bigger fours, he can attack them. Definitely use him in a lot more ball screens. Getting him rolling to the rim for lobs or drop passes. He’s a pretty good finisher.”
The Grants’ father, Harvey, attended Friday’s game. He enjoyed an 11-year NBA career, which came to a close with the Sixers in 1999.
For the second time this season, the Sixers travel to Quicken Loans Arena to play the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-7). The top team in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland has ripped off four straight wins, their most recent of which came in a 104-100 home victory Thursday over the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is another 17-win club. The Cavaliers’ current surge represents a positive rebound from the team’s season-high three-game losing streak that occurred earlier this month. LeBron James entered the weekend fourth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 26.6 points per game. Coming off off-season shoulder surgery, Kevin Love has appeared in all 24 of Cleveland’s games, and is one of nine players in the league averaging a double-double (17.6 pts, 10.8 reb). Kyrie Irving had reportedly been on track to return to the team Thursday versus Oklahoma City, but he instead remained inactive. The All-Star point guard has been sidelined with a right kneecap fracture since Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Sixers have been competitive in two losses to Cleveland this season, falling to the Cavs twice, 107-100 and 108-102, during the first week of the campaign.