NEW YORK — The NBA paired the Sixers and Knicks for a Christmas Day showcase and the teams delivered at Madison Square Garden.
The evenly matched opponents competed in a matchup of some of the league’s top young talent, headlined by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Kristaps Porzingis. The Sixers (15-18) prevailed with a 105-98 win over the Knicks (17-16) (see observations).
With Monday's win on Broadway, the Sixers pulled within two games of the Knicks, who currently possess the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I was so excited to play tonight because we’ve been through so much losing,” Embiid said. “To be able to be one of the few teams in the league to play on this day, it just shows you how much we’ve improved.”
The Sixers had not played on Christmas Day since 2001 against the Lakers. For a team that won 10 games just two seasons ago, the matinee selection was significant. More importantly, they broke a five-game losing streak, a skid that extended back to nine of their previous 10 contests.
“It’s huge,” Simmons said. “That’s what we definitely needed and it’s on a special day, so it was great.”
Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, led the Sixers with a 25-point, 16-rebound double-double. He mixed in three blocks, adding him to the list of Anthony Davis, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Rick Mahorn and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the last seven players to record at least 25 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks on Christmas.
JJ Redick followed up with 24 points (4 for 8 from three) in his first game back from right hamstring tightness. The Sixers would need more than that to fend off a massive 31-point, 22-rebound effort by Enes Kanter and 22 points, seven rebounds and five blocks by Porzingis, though.
That’s where T.J. McConnell stepped in off the bench with a season high-tying 15 points. McConnell’s high-energy performance earned high praise from Sixers head coach Brett Brown.
“He was the MVP of the game,” Brown said.
Brown also credited the Sixers’ defense for the victory. They held the Knicks to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from three in the fourth quarter. When turnovers, which had been under control all game, crept in during the final quarter (seven of their total 13 came in the final frame), the Sixers fended off a Knicks’ late-game push and kept the lead to five or more during the final three minutes.
“We got stops when we needed to,” Embiid said.
The Sixers head back to Philadelphia with a win to their Christmas evening celebrations. They knew they couldn't take the afternoon off if they wanted to enjoy the rest of the holiday before heading out West for three games starting Thursday in Portland prior to stopping in Denver and Phoenix.
“We were on a losing streak,” Redick said. “We realized we are at a breaking point in the season. We had to play with more urgency. Today our energy was at a different level.”