Roles reversed as the New York Knicks (18-16) recently got an eight-game winning string broken . . . only for the Philadelphia 76ers (20-12) to earn their own eighth win in a row by defeating New York 119-112 on Christmas Day.
Joel Embiid and James Harden combined for 64 points. The former pulled down eight boards while the latter dished out 13 dimes. More importantly, they visited the charity stripe 15 and 11 times respectively, hitting 10 freebies each.
“I think the big thing is we fouled too much,” Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “Our fouls, they hurt us. Embiid’s a great player, Harden’s a great player, but if you’re not disciplined, that’s gonna hurt you. And it did.”
All Knicks players combined attempted 17 free-throw shots, hitting 14 of them, and no player went on to shoot more than seven. Julius Randle reached that mark, going a perfect 7-for-7 from the line.
“You can’t foul or appear to foul. You have to be disciplined and it’s not easy. We’re capable of doing a lot better than we did,” said Thibodeau. “You can’t have three or four bad minutes where you’re fouling and giving them open shots.”
The coach wasn’t wrong.
Maybe, though, that was not the only thing wrong with this team.
“I don’t know why they were playing in a drop coverage,” said Georges Niang, aka The Minivan. “I probably haven’t seen that since college, but they were putting two on James and that’s kind of where me and James have that two-man game that really you know flourishes.”
New York closed the first quarter leading by 12 points after dumping 37 first-period points on Philadelphia’s forehead. That outcome served no purpose as the Knicks went on to lose the three following quarters by nine, two, and eight points.
“I thought offensively we were very unselfish and we made good plays, we got good looks, the rebounding was good,” Thibodeau said. The Knicks, though, could only score 16 points in the final 12 minutes of play and turned a 14-point lead into a 14-point deficit with just 4:48 left on the clock.
Thibodeau thought that New York was “just not doing enough to win right now and that’s what we have to fix.”
“You got 30 assists in a game, you’re sharing the ball,” Thibodeau said. “Then we were low turnover, but the fouls . . . those are the things we have to look at. How can we clean that up?”
The game ended with both teams having 19 personal fouls in their counts. De’Anthony Melton committed five for the Sixers, while teammates Harden, Embiid, and Niang got three each. Nobody on the Knicks committed more than four personal fouls (Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims).
“Overall, I thought Mitch played a terrific game,” Tom Thibodeau said about Mitchell Robinson. The big man and fellow center Sims couldn’t find a way to stop Embiid from inflicting damage on a play-by-play basis, fouling him often while getting into foul trouble early themselves, hurting the Knicks’ overall gameplan.
“You can’t reach against them,” Thibodeau said. “[Embiid and Harden] are both very good. They extend their arms. Harden has all the tricks. He’s good at it. And if you fall into it, you can’t foul or appear to foul. You have to be disciplined.”
Speaking about Embiid, though, Mitch conceded that he is “a great player” and that he “gets a lot of free throws, stuff like that.” Robinson added that “you’ve got to do the best you can (to stop Embiid), just play hard.”
New York was in a leading, prime position to snatch their first victory in three games through the first quarter and change.
“I thought their first quarter, they had all the energy, they killed us on the glass the whole first half, I thought they were quicker to everything,” said Sixers honcho Doc Rivers. “But Joel coming out towards the end of the second quarter and being aggressive, I really thought that changed the game.”
The Knicks were enjoying a fantastic performance by Jalen Brunson once more but the point guard was forced out of the game early in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 23 points, 11 dimes, three boards, and just one turnover through his 35 minutes spent on the court.
Brunson headed to the locker with (it’s assumed, as the Knicks didn’t make him available to the media after the game nor have offered any information at the time of this writing) a right hip injury. He came back to the sideline but didn’t log another second on the hardwood.
The guard has yet to miss a game this season, starting all 34 he’s appeared in. That is, of course, even having suffered a foot contusion two weeks ago and a right quad contusion in late November. According to Thibodeau, speaking after the game, Brunson was “getting looked at,” though the coach was not sure of the exact injury at that moment.
With the Sixers having put together an unstoppable 21-4 run in the second half, Embiid stood still on the legendary MSG hardwood, extended his long arms, and called for the crowd’s respect. Local ladies and gentlemen attending the exhibition showered him with loud boos—and some deserved cheers.
Quoth P&T’er bargzzz: “No one stops Embiid.” Take solace.
Carmelo Anthony attended the game, by the way. Anthony is a 38-year-old free agent. He has more years now than points he scored back on Christmas Day 2011 when he dropped 37. Good old times, bright new future?
Anyway, your Knickerbockers are back on the schedule on Tuesday. New York goes on a Texas Trip to close the year against Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston.