SI:AM | Knicks-Sixers Was Everything a Playoff Series Should Be 

The two teams were separated by just one point over the course of six games. 
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I got so worked up during the fourth quarter of Knicks-Sixers that I had to turn up my air conditioning. 

In today’s SI:AM: 
🗽 The Knicks win a classic
🏈 Too many NFL games? 
🐦 The Orioles’ fatal flaw

What a series

One point. That’s all there was to separate the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers after a thrilling six-game series that ended with New York’s series-clinching victory Thursday night. The Knicks scored 650 points in the series. The Sixers scored 649. 

This series had everything. It had spectacular individual performances, like Joel Embiid’s 50-point game, Tyrese Maxey’s 46 and Jalen Brunson’s four straight games with at least 39 points. (The last player to score 39 in four straight playoff games? Michael Jordan.) It had electrifying finishes, like Maxey’s clutch shot-making in Game 5. It had local animosity as the two nearby rivals met in the postseason for the first time in 35 years and Knicks fans invaded Philadelphia

Game 6 might have been the best of the series. When the Knicks jumped out to a 33–11 lead in the first quarter, they seemed poised to cruise to victory. But then the Sixers came storming back and, after 17 second-quarter points by Buddy Hield, took a 54–51 lead into halftime. Hield was the most unlikely of heroes. He hadn’t played in either of the previous two games after scoring just two points in limited action in the first three games of the series. He knocked down five of his seven three-point attempts in the quarter and out-scored the entire Knicks team by himself. 

Hield’s incendiary quarter made it a new game, and by the middle of the third quarter the Sixers managed to stretch their lead to 10. But the Knicks didn’t blink and with a 22–12 run over the final six minutes of the third were able to tie the game at 83. That led to a back-and-forth fourth quarter that featured four ties and three lead changes. 

To borrow a word from Knicks announcer Walt Frazier, Brunson was the catalyst in the fourth. He had 14 points in the quarter, twice as many as any other Knicks player, and scored or assisted on eight of the team’s 13 made field goals. It was just the latest in a series of superstar performances from Brunson, who has cemented himself this season among the game’s elite players. He finished the game with 41 points on 13-of-27 shooting and also added 12 assists.

But the beauty of this Knicks team is that, while Brunson undeniably leads the way, they have a solid backbone of role players who are equally crucial to their success. In Game 6 it was Brunson’s former Villanova teammates Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo. Hart had 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, and DiVincenzo had 23 points, seven assists, three blocks and two steals. DiVincenzo played all 48 minutes of the game and was tasked with being the primary defender on Maxey. After Maxey torched the Knicks for 46 points in Game 5, he managed just 17 on 6-of-18 shooting Thursday. 

The Sixers posed a more difficult challenge for the Knicks than a 7-seed usually does for a 2-seed. That’s because Philadelphia was forced to play without Embiid for much of the season and thus its record did not accurately reflect the quality of the team when at full strength, which it was in the postseason after Embiid (although hobbled at times by his knee injury) was able to return. Either of these two teams could have reasonably expected to reach at least the conference finals, so it’s a shame that one of them had to be sent packing so early. No matter which team won the series, it would have been crushing for the loser to exit in the first round. But the quality of both teams made for one of the best first-round series in recent memory. 

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… plays from the fourth quarter of Knicks-Sixers: 
5. Buddy Hield’s off-ball movement to get open for a three early in the quarter. 
4. Jalen Brunson’s assist to a wide-open Mitchell Robinson. 
3. Josh Hart’s go-ahead three with 24 seconds left. 
2. Brunson’s body control on a jumper with three defenders surrounding him. 
1. OG Anunoby’s dunk in Joel Embiid’s face. 


Published
Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland writes Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, and is SI’s pro wrestling editor. Dan holds a degree in Communications and Media Studies from Fordham University.