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The Knicks’ Roadmap to Playoff Success against the 76ers

Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart are important players for the Knicks to beat the 76ers.

Well, that was fun. In a hard-fought battle to go up 1-0, the Knicks beat the Sixers 111-104 on Saturday Night. The Knicks played physical defense, hit clutch shots, and came back from double-digit deficits throughout the game. Despite an off night from superstar Jalen Brunson, the Knicks got quality production from their bench players to carry the load. They did several things well, and it showed in the result. The Knicks playoff run cannot be sustained by Brunson alone, and it was great to see others step up and hit shots while he struggled.

So, how do the Knicks sustain this momentum and beat the 76ers?

The Knicks’ Roadmap to Playoff Success against the 76ers

Offensive Rebounding

The Knicks had 23 offensive boards compared to the 76ers 9. Because of this large disparity, the Knicks had 26 2nd-chance points compared to the 76ers 8. Offensive rebounding is a huge part of the Knicks identity. They were the best team in the NBA, leading the league with 12.7 offensive boards per game. A lot of this was despite Mitchell Robinson missing close to 50+ games this season. When he played, he was 2nd in the league with 4.6 offensive rebounds per game. Isaiah Hartenstein, the Knicks’ other big man, averaged over 3 a game. If they do this consistently in every game of the postseason, the Knicks playoff chances rise significantly, partly because of the lack of rebounding bigs in the East.

Additionally, Joel Embiid‘s lack of conditioning means it will be easier for the big men to play bully ball and dominate the glass throughout this series. This was evident in Game 1, where Embiid just had 8 rebounds, far lower than his season average of 11. At times, Embiid looked exhausted from the beating his body was receiving. He was slow to get up on the few occasions he went down, indicating he was not 100% fit, and it is unlikely that it will be for the course of this series. Robinson, in particular, was constantly pushing and shoving Embiid, and there were possessions where Embiid did not contest the rebound. The Knicks should be able to dominate the glass, and it will go a long way in winning this battle. This leads to the next key element.

Limiting Embiid

It’s pretty easy to say this, partly because this is the best way for any team to beat the 76ers. However, the Knicks playoff hopes depend on how well they can contain Embiid. They had a 31-8 record with Embiid (65-win pace), compared to 16-27 without him (31-win pace). The presumptive MVP (had he reached the threshold), Embiid has been on a tear this season. However, since returning, his numbers have dipped. Now this is expected because he is still getting used to playing these minutes, but physicality is clearly bothering him. The Knicks’ 1-2 punch at center means they can be extremely physical without losing anybody to foul trouble.

Much of this could be seen in Game 1, where Embiid shot just 8 for 22 from the field. They limited his touches in the paint, and he passed up a lot of shots that he normally would have taken. He shot 7 shots within 5 feet, up from the 4.4 he averaged since his return, but he also attempted 8 shots behind the 3-point line, far higher than his season numbers. In fact, he attempted the 2nd most threes of his season in Game 1. He had just 4 drives yesterday compared to 8 per game in the regular season. For the Knicks to beat the Sixers in this playoff series, they must contain him like they did yesterday.

Bench Production

The Knicks beat the Sixers because of their bench. The Knicks’ bench outscored their Sixers counterpart 42-7. All of the Knicks starters were in the negatives for +/-, but in the 28 minutes that Miles McBride played, they outscored the 76ers by 37 points. On Both sides of the ball, Bojan Bogdanovic, McBride, and Robinson all had positive contributions that were huge factors in winning the game. Robinson had seven offensive rebounds and four huge blocks. He also allowed the 76ers to shoot just 35% when he was the primary defender.

Bogdanovic had eight quick points to start the 2nd quarter, allowing the Knicks to claw back from an early 11-point deficit. “Deuce” McBride had 21 points last night, making sure that the Knicks were chugging along even though their superstar struggled. The shot-making off the bench will be required throughout the playoffs. The Knicks lack a 2nd star alongside Brunson, and this means that he will see a lot of traps and double teams no matter who they play. When his shots don’t fall (like yesterday), it’s on the bench players to come in and contribute by knocking down open shots to alleviate the pressure.

The Knicks must win the next game at home. The possibility of being down 0-2 with a raucous crowd back home will certainly not help the 76ers. Philly fans are brutal, and being up 2-0 in a series where Joel Embiid is not fully healthy is promising for the Knicks. You do not want this to become a six-game or seven-game series where Embiid has enough time to get healthy. At the same time, in the one regular-season meeting between these two teams where Embiid played, the Knicks beat them by 36 points.

The Knicks are locked and loaded, and the East should be scared.

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