The last time the New York Knicks beat the Philadelphia 76ers was the 2017 season finale — Marshall Plumlee, Chasson Randle, Justin Holiday, Sasha Vujačić and Mindaugas Kuzminskas bested Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes, Alex Poythress, T.J. McConnell and Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot. The losing streak is now 15 and will endure until at least next season after the Sixers squeaked out a 101-100 overtime win at Madison Square Garden.
This game ran at a playoff intensity, and for good reasons: these two teams could meet in the first round and due to COVID protocol there were only two referees. The NBA went away from the two-ref system in 1988 and this game was straight out of the olden days, a physical, chippy affair throughout. Joel Embiid, Derrick Rose and Elfrid Payton were all still out, but Mitchell Robinson returned for his first action since fracturing his hand five weeks ago.
Neither team had much going on as far as early offense, with the exception of the Knick defense losing Furkan Korkmaz not once, not twice, but thrice from downtown. The Sixers went on an early 15-0 run, due in no small part to them stealing, blocking or deflecting seemingly every pass or shot the Knicks attempted. Ben Simmons was The Flash on the defensive end; at times it looked like Philadelphia was on an extended power play. By the end of the first the Knicks had put together their lowest-scoring opening frame of the season, trailing 23-15.
The Knick offense tends to go as Julius Randle goes, and this was a rough night for him inside the arc, where he shot just 3-of-16. New York couldn’t buy a bucket from the field or the charity stripe in the first half. If they were gonna claw back, it would be because of their defense. Claw back they did.
After missing his first five shots, Immanuel Quickley hit a couple of 3s as part of a 13-0 run to pull the Knicks within one at the half. The last points of that run came courtesy of RJ Barrett taking it at three defenders and hitting the tough two. That was Barrett’s m.o. tonight; he made nine baskets, each seemingly tougher than the last.
RJ just put a DPOY candidate in the blender pic.twitter.com/oYm2lglLFf— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 22, 2021
Is RJ... an ELITE finisher now?? pic.twitter.com/W4QAsceZN2— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 22, 2021
Neither team could gain separation, with the biggest second-half lead for each just six. The game was tied after three and the teams’ entanglement wasn’t just on the scoreboard; after reviewing this scrum under the basket, the officials whistled Sixers’ center Tony Bradley for a flagrant 1 and Randle for a technical foul.
Did Julius Randle deserve a technical foul for this? pic.twitter.com/8vTI9gogLu— BenchWarmerPost (@BenchWarmerPost) March 22, 2021
Quickley front-rimmed a pair of free throws early in the fourth. An omen? It felt ominous, especially after Shake Milton hit a deep 3-ball, then took Mitch baseline and hit a tough shot over him. Tyrese Maxey followed suit, giving the Sixers the most breathing room they’d enjoy. Philadelphia’s bench of Maxey, Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Michael Scott and Dwight Howard put in a good shift.
Alec Burks channeled his inner Nadia Comăneci into arguably his best games as a Knick, earning perfect 10s on a number of wild and wooly lay-ups. I try not to have videos oversaturate the recap, but words will not do most of Burks’ jewels justice.
Dude what even was this finish by Burks pic.twitter.com/ca2ZQb7l8b— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 22, 2021
What has gotten into Alec Burks all the sudden?? pic.twitter.com/jzjZKL14of— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 22, 2021
Burks then drove and dished to Randle for a 3 that pulled the Knicks within two, at which point Doc Rivers sent Simmons, Korkmaz, Tobias Harris and Danny Green back into the fray, and shortly after which Mitch was forced out with a banged-up ankle.
If this was a playoff preview, then Frank Ntilikina may not see much in the way of minutes when that time comes. Ntilikina’s absolute refusal to do anything with the ball besides get rid of it as quickly as humanly possible gummed up multiple possessions and forced the other Knicks, stuck playing 4-on-5, into turnovers. Sometimes you just gotta try doing something, on the off chance it works. Nerlens Noel proved that more than once.
Nerlens... MIDRANGE MAESTRO pic.twitter.com/eMh75aoNg1— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 22, 2021
WHAT HAS GOTTEN INTO NERLENS? pic.twitter.com/HoBn17iHwJ— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 22, 2021
An RJ baby-hook gave the Knicks their first lead since the opening minutes, though this was the sort of game where leads go to die. There are lots of things Payton can’t do, but watching Burks and Reggie Bullock struggle to get the ball into the frontcourt late was a reminder that as silly as it may sound, dribbling is an important part of basketball. As he did Saturday, Thybulle hit a big late-game 3 for the Sixers. Burks answered with one of his own. Down one, the Knicks had a chance to take the lead when Burks got out on the break. He should have dished to Randle but tried to finish and missed; Randle collected the rebound but failed to locate a wide-open Burks in the corner. The ball went out of bounds and was ruled off Randle.
A Green running one-hander as the shot clock expired put the 76ers back up three with 19 seconds left. Randle drove to the rim, where he challenged Howard and came away the silver medalist. The Knicks had to foul Harris, who improbably missed both free throws. The Knicks still had a shot. Sometimes you just gotta try doing something, on the off chance it works.
That shot that got us here.— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) March 22, 2021
JULIUS. CLUTCH. pic.twitter.com/qD8tiLe6bZ
It almost got even better: Harris couldn’t handle Simmons’ inbounds pass and it ended up in Randle’s hands, who got off a long 3 before the buzzer but missed off-glass.
The first blood spilled in overtime came from RJ finding Burks for a net-snapping 3. Green, who’d gone scoreless the first three quarters, saw Burks’ trey and raised him another, putting Philadelphia back out in front. Burks hit another tough lay-up and splashed a pull-up; he found RJ ahead of the field after Green missed from deep to give the Knicks the lead. Noel forced Harris to miss his drive and Bullock hit a 3 as the shot clock expired. Orpheus had nearly reached the surface.
The tragic turnaround began with a Harris 3 with a minute left. Burks missed an open pull-up and the Sixers rebounded. They’d miss their shot but get the offensive rebound; Milton missed a running jumper and the Knicks looked like they’d win, but with five seconds left Randle was called for a loose ball foul on Harris. Tom Thibodeau called timeout and thought he appealed, but the refs ruled he didn’t do so in time.
Tom Thibodeau seems to tell the officials that he challenged the foul call on Julius Randle with 5.3 seconds left. If you do the lip reading on the Knicks coach. A challenge has to be called in a certain order via NBA rules— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) March 22, 2021
Later, Thibodeau said: "They said we didn’t challenge." pic.twitter.com/Hu2HdIwY8f
This time Harris hit both from the line. The Knicks’ last shot was the perfect metaphor for their last three losses to Brooklyn and twice to Philadelphia: so close...but nothing to show for it.
Julius Randle was close to winning it pic.twitter.com/JXNQM6QYHl— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 22, 2021
- The officials’ explanation for what happened with Thibodeau’s failed appeal:
Crew chief Courtney Kirkland told pool reporter @StevePopper Thibodeau challenged the call late.— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) March 22, 2021
He said Thibodeau asked for one "way after the fact. The coach must initiate the challenge immediately during the same interaction with the officials when he calls the timeout.” https://t.co/LmgRGcihsE
- Randle’s rebuttal:
Julius Randle: "Blown call by the officials. Not enough contact for them to call the play... for them to call that and decide the game is f--king ridiculous. It's ridiculous, they've got to do a better job. There's too many games like this." pic.twitter.com/dTBKb1aLn2— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) March 22, 2021
- Both teams had 38 field goals, 11 3-pointers, and 44 rebounds. I really like numbers.
- A season-high 13 for Noel. What a pleasant surprise he’s been.
- Obi Toppin hasn’t had much opportunity for success, and success builds confidence, and he clearly doesn’t look confident. But I need him to start trying to do things. Anythings. On offense whenever he touches the ball it’s either to immediately hand it off to a guard or spot up for 3. Give the man some pick-and-rolls. Get him moving, on cuts and spot-ups. Get something more than “just happy to be here” outta the rook.
- Toppin and Ntilikina combined: 25 minutes, four points, one assist, two turnovers, zero rebounds, zero steals, zero blocks.
- MSG trivia: who are the five Knicks since 1980 with more assists in a game than Randle’s 17 on Saturday?
- Can you win a title with Ben Simmons as your second-best player? With Tobias Harris as your third-best? I can’t tell. I hope Joel Embiid stays healthy and we get to find out.
- Dwight Howard applauded for Mitch when he first checked in. Is Howard a world-class heel? Is he positive but just such a cornball? He is a mystery to me.
- 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers played for the Knicks from 1992-94. In a game in Philadelphia he one-armed a 75-foot Hail Mary at the end of the first quarter and drilled it. I can never find video of that, but it was pretty cool.
UPDATE: Thanks to Mike DeClerico for finding and sharing the long-lost clip of Doc’s heave! I yelled so loud when this shot went in my dad came running up the stairs thinking something bad had happened.
- Clyde after a Howard turnover: “Sometimes you dribble the ball. Sometimes it dribbles you.”
- Trivia answer: Chris Duhon, Stephon Marbury, Mark Jackson, Raymond Felton, Micheal Ray Richardson.
Quoth Tomato Can: “This game [was] downright silly.” It was, the way that laughing from someone tickling you for an absurdly long time becomes intensely unpleasant — it’s silly, but it hurts. Next two games are Tuesday and Thursday at home to Washington. Hopefully the 21-22 Knicks wake up on Friday morning a winning team.