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Sixers 108, Knicks 105: “Best game of the year!”

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The Knicks lost the fight, but the 76ers left knowing they’d been in one.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Before this afternoon’s game, I expected the Knicks would get clobbered by the Philadelphia 76ers and I’d open with something snarky like “This was the closest the Knicks came to winning today” and post this:

But despite Embiid and Butler combining for 60 minutes while the Knicks got zero from Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Trey Burke, Courtney Lee, and Mitchell Robinson, a spirited second-half and furious final minute saw the Knicks come within inches of an unforgettable comeback. History will record this as a 108-105 defeat, but deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties this was that most precious of gifts: a moral defeat, a reason to hope when the world keeps telling us to despair.

It didn’t look that way early. Maaaaad empty seats at tip-off. Was it the 1:00 start? Acute exhaustion after Friday’s grotesque charade vs. Indiana? Chronic exhaustion from what seems a lock to be three straight seasons with more losses than the year prior? Lance Thomas started for the first time since before Halloween. Meanwhile, Embiid and Simmons. So big. So good.

(Stay tuned for more trenchant analysis.)

Philadelphia absolutely blitzkrieged the Knicks off the blocks, jumping out to a 26-8 lead. The Sixers had seven different scorers when the Knicks only had four baskets. One team’s offense showed movement, creativity and aggression; the other’s was simplicity, stagnation and uncertainty. Kevin Knox excepted.

Ntilikina was also incisive and decisive, setting the table for others and whipping up hash for himself, too.

His first shot was a runner off glass that led Brett Brown to call the most fast-twitch timeout in human history.

The Knicks made a little run, capped by a Mario Hezonja steal that led to a Luke Kornet three that made it 40-32 Sixers. New York’s defense was switching effectively; there wasn’t the incessant desperate scrambling we’re used to. Sure, at halftime the Sixers were still on pace for 120+, but unlike Friday’s abomination vs. the Pacers the Knicks were making the opponent work somewhat before scoring. Sometimes the switching even worked.

As far as turning defense into buckets, though, it was Embiid who enjoyed the sequence of the night.

Things were looking dark, then dim, then ebon for the Broadway boys. Simmons was even throwing lefty midrange baseline fadeaways, fer Chrissakes.

More low points: a JJ Redick four-point play put the 76ers up 17. It was the 10th four-point play the Knicks have surrendered this year. In case you’re curious and a bit of a masochist, New York has but two. Then, on a sequence that was the low point of the game, Mudiay dribbled up the floor on Simmons, got into the paint and had a lay-up deflected. He corralled it himself and got to the corner, where Wilson “I’m Still Playing/Where Melo At?” Chandler had rotated, so he passed it to Kornet, who dished to Frank, who drove on Furkan Korkmaz and into Embiid, then dropped it back to Kornet, who had Embiid back on him, so he dished to Lance open in the corner...well, “open” if his jumper wasn’t like unfolding a king-sized blanket, so Simmons had time to rotate back. Thomas drove clumsily into Embiid — and I mean clumsily: his face went right into Embiid’s shoulder, and as Jonathan Schulman pointed out in the P&T Slack Lance somehow Eurostepped in a straight line — and committed a charge. The Knicks had missed 12 of 14 threes and were down 24 in the second quarter. But literally and figuratively, they kept coming, e.g. when Ntilikina made a sweet lay-up, had his shoe come loose, fixed it, sprinted 85 feet and caught Embiid for a strip that triggered a Knick breakaway.

In the third New York kept knock-knock-knocking. A Dotson three cut the deficit to 10. A Mudiay drive made it eight. A Kornet three brought it to seven.

A Knox drive made it five. Then Embiid, pissed he didn’t get a call on the other end, did this.

You. Do. Not. Fuck. With. Luke. Kornet.

After that flagrant-one, Kornet hit both free throws, then followed up a Ntilikina miss to make it 83-82. Embiid was clearly shook, and kept the ultraviolence coming. Walt Frazier thought this was intentional. What do you think?

Embiid spent the rest of the night pissed and forcing crap and generally failing to score and getting booed. Redick is more integral to the Sixers than he would be to a lot of teams, not only for his shooting but for his ability to stay calm when tensions climb. He suckered Allonzo Trier into fouling him shooting a three, hitting all three free throws to push the lead back to four.

Meanwhile, the Knicks missed their first 10 shots in the fourth, going scoreless for half the quarter. Simmons returned to action with Philly up 86-82 and sparked an 8-0 run to seemingly put the game on ice. The Knicks finally remembered what points were like thanks to their Rookie Of The Year candidate (non-Doncic divison).

The Sixers were up double-digits and it looked like another “meh” loss. But Kornet, Mudiay and Knox hit three threes in a row to make it 96-94.

A Redick jumper and Embiid following his own miss to convert a three-point play appeared put it away. Again.

Simmons grabbed an offensive rebound late and found Redick for another three-pointer that put the 76ers 104-96. Again, game, set, match, right?

NAH!

The Knicks kept coming. They hit threes, and they kept fouling even after it seemed stupid to do so (especially for my father-in-law, who was waiting for this game to end so he could watch the Patriots/Chargers), and Embiid and even Redick missed free throws, and before you knew it Dotson got Embiid to foul him on a three with just under five seconds left and the Knicks down four. He hit the first two to cut it to 108-105, then missed the third on purpose, perfectly: the ball fell to the right, where Mudiay got it, dribbled out behind the arc and put up a 3 over Embiid and something called Jonah Bolden. It missed, but not by much.

Notes:

  • A career-high 31 for Knox, his first 30+ point game. And for you bitter haters out there, only nine of them came in the first.
  • I am not here for anybody’s Ben Simmons’ bitching. You sweating his lack of a three-point game? Unconvinced he and Embiid have the brains, games and time to make it work together? Don’t think he can be a centerpiece on a title-winner? Go on. Go to war with your Johnny Conventionals. I’ma take my chances with #25. 20, 21 and 9 for him today. That’s how close we came to a 6th triple-double in 14 games for Mr. Jenner.
  • I don’t have a settled opinion on whether or not the Knicks should bring Mudiay back next year. I will say I don’t remember too many Knick point guards who do this multiple times every game.
  • New York’s bench outscored Philly’s 40-17, led by 23, 5 and 5 from Kornet. Psst. You ever seen a Kornet breakaway? You wanna?
  • Also pretty by Luke:
  • Embiid bloodied Kornet’s nose almost a month ago. Then he flagrants him and cracks him in the face. Hell hath few furies like a Mama pissed.
  • Foul, or nay?

This wouldn’t happen to Trier so much if this didn’t happen with Trier so much.

Which would leave to these numbers hopefully inverting.

  • Noah Vonleh a total non-factor on offense today. Got pulled in the 4th, and rightly so.
  • They say talent wins. But in the playoffs everyone is talented. So putting that aside, I don’t see Philadelphia as a legit conference contender. Not as currently constructed. Their stars all seem too combustible to me. When the shit hits the fan, neither Embiid, Simmons nor Butler strike me as having the temperament to pull their comrades through a high-stakes, hotly-contested crux-of-the-biscuit moment in a do-or-die game in Boston or Toronto.
  • I hate replay. In all sports. I would rather not have it anywhere, ever. But with about 4:00 left, the ball went out of bounds and the Knicks argued it went off Embiid, and it was tough to see in real-time...and the refs never looked at the video. And, like, why not? Why have it to not use it?
  • 17 years ago today, Knicks held opponents below 100 for 30 straight games, an NBA-record at the time. Which is so weird. The 2000-01 Knicks were like the sixth-best defensive team of the Riley/Van Gundy era. Always sad that team lost to Toronto in the first round. Would have loved to see the dying embers of the ‘90s Knicks get a shot at Allen Iverson.

Quoth Real Clydes Wear Plaid: “Best game of the year!” Maybe it was! Feeling emotions, rooting against the other team like it matters, being invested in today rather than forever speculating about hundreds of tomorrows from now — whew. I mean, there’s always these people in the world.

But give me fiery but doomed over placid capitulation anytime. Next game is Thursday at 3:00 in London against Washington. Hope it’s as fun as this one was.