The Knicks snapped a 15-game losing streak to the Sixers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The outcome was not suspenseful.
Propelled by a 39-16 second-quarter advantage, New York cruised to a 112-99 win. The Knicks led by as many as 27 points in the third quarter.
Kemba Walker scored 19 points and Evan Fournier added 18. Julius Randle had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Joel Embiid recorded 14 points on 2-for-7 shooting and had five turnovers. Tobias Harris was the Sixers' best player on the night, posting 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
Now 2-2 on the season, the Sixers will play the Pistons on Thursday night in their first of four consecutive home games.
Here are observations on their loss to the Knicks:
Despite New York’s revamped offensive resources, the Sixers played excellent first-quarter defense. Furkan Korkmaz raced all around the court to pick up deflections, Matisse Thybulle was his disruptive self and Tyrese Maxey bothered Walker with back-taps and rearview contests.
The second period was a different, uglier story. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers used Maxey with his team’s second unit, keeping Isaiah Joe on the bench. The Sixers played at a fast pace and initially had no trouble scoring, but everything soon turned sour. Andre Drummond scored six quick points, though he committed a poor turnover in the backcourt that led to an Obi Toppin layup. The insertion of Harris didn’t instill any stability as he also sparked a Knicks fast break with a giveaway.
Rivers wasn't pleased with any aspect of the Sixers' showing.
“The difference between the first quarter and the second quarter was we made a couple of shots (in the first)," he told reporters in New York, “but we didn’t move the ball. The ball stuck. I thought they were just so much more physical than us. They pushed us around the entire night. But it started from the beginning. Some of the shots we took in the first six minutes of the game were just one pass, shot — avoided physicality, no picks, no passing. That was as bad as I’ve seen us and I didn’t like it. We’ll get it fixed.”
The Sixers’ three-point defense was particularly problematic during a second quarter in which very little went right. The Knicks were 10 for 16 from long range in the first half, while the Sixers were 2 for 15. An off shooting night was inevitable at some point after the Sixers’ torrid start, but this was a steep regression.
What was most disappointing about the Sixers’ second-period performance was the team’s collective loss of composure. Yes, the Knicks were on a roll and had loud support from the Garden crowd, but the Sixers didn’t seem to know how they could halt New York’s run other than getting Embiid the ball.
Embiid can’t carry Sixers
Embiid tried and missed two early three-pointers. He then did well seeking contact, drawing six first-quarter free throws. Embiid is a man of many talents, but that ability to force defenders to foul remains among his best and most valuable. For the game, Embiid shot 10 for 11 from the foul line.
Fouls aside, though, Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson guarded Embiid effectively. Robinson has always been an eye-catching player; he’s a rangy, agile big man with superb defensive instincts who seems to be benefitting from added muscle. If Robinson and Nerlens Noel are healthy — the former Sixer is sidelined by left knee soreness — they’d pose interesting questions for Embiid in a playoff series. Embiid took an unintentional shot to the face from Robinson in the third but returned to the action after a timeout.
With or without Ben Simmons, who's still out for personal reasons, it’s apparent that the Sixers are deficient in shot creation. They’re highly reliant on Embiid in the half court against good, physical defenses. Harris post-ups and isolations are solid as a secondary option, but the Sixers don’t have many run-stopping go-tos otherwise.
As the team is currently built, the Sixers need to create turnovers (and take care of the ball themselves), score in transition and depend on Embiid’s individual excellence. Embiid passing sharply out of double teams and setting up the shooters around him for open looks obviously is helpful, too.
After shooting 0 for 5 from the floor in the first half, Embiid finally broke the ice with a mid-range jumper early in the third.
He was again listed as questionable leading into the game with right knee soreness and continues to be affected by the injury.
“That’s not an excuse," Embiid said, “but I don’t think I’ve played like this, at least at the start of the season, in any stretch in my career. It’s not an excuse, but I’m going to keep pushing and hope for the best.”
Maxey not an All-Star overnight
It's borderline self-evident, but Maxey is a downgrade from Simmons. Tuesday night, Maxey scored seven points on 3-for-9 shooting.
He had a couple of difficult moments against former Kentucky teammate Immanuel Quickley, fouling him on one three-point attempt and losing his footing before a long-distance make.
While the 20-year-old is superior to Simmons as a shooter and is an exciting, attack-minded driver, the Australian was a deserving All-Star last season. Maxey was a rookie figuring out the NBA during a pandemic-impacted season, and he’s now four games into a run as the Sixers’ starting point guard.
That’s not to say Maxey is incapable of being a good starter or that he’s trending down as a player; in fact, he's showed quite a few encouraging signs over the Sixers' first week. However, the Sixers such as Embiid who have noted the team is better with Simmons active weren’t just being diplomatic.
By the time the Sixers play the Knicks again on Nov. 8, Maxey will be 21.
“I’ve got to do a better job of just corralling," Maxey said. “Doc calls a play … and just try to initiate it and be more assertive with it. It comes with maturity. I feel like I’m getting better and better every single day, game by game. It’s a long season, so we’re going to keep working and keep progressing.”
For now, we wait and see what’s next with Simmons. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Amy Fadool on Sunday that things are “moving in a positive direction.” TNT’s Allie LaForce reported shortly before tip-off that Simmons worked out with members of the Sixers organization Tuesday morning.