Sixers vs. Knicks Game 2: Three keys to steal home court advantage

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots a 3-point basket over New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein, left, during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

After a disappointing loss in Game 1 against the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers are back in Maddison Square Garden as they look to steal home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Sixers may not have landed the first blow in Game 1, but the team should be glad that Joel Embiid will be able to return for Game 2 despite sustaining/re-aggravating an injury to his recovering left knee.

With the opportunity to push momentum in their favor, the Sixers can overcome New York in Game 2 by following these three keys.

I. Playing Embiid and Reed together

It’s no secret that the Sixers were obliterated on the boards. It’s also no unique idea that the Sixers’ best way to combat those issues is by playing their two bigs, Joel Embiid and Paul Reed, side-by-side for stretches going forward.

Though it’s been called for throughout the season and was even discussed heading into the year, Embiid and Reed have hardly shared the court, with a total of just seven minutes together over five games. In that time, the pairing was relatively successful, particularly defensive, but there isn’t enough evidence to make the claim definitively, but that also doesn’t debunk the theory.

It’s easy to overthink, but the logic follows that pairing Embiid and Reed together will theoretically give you a more competitive lineup to battle on the boards. However, rebounding isn’t the only area the team must improve.

II. The Sixers need to be aggressive off the bench

Philadelphia 76ers guard Buddy Hield (17) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Sam Merrill during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 29, 2024, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Philadelphia’s starters, for the most part, had a solid night and arguably did enough to win the game. The biggest issue was the Sixers’ bench’s lack of contribution, which managed to score just seven points to the Knicks’ 40. Nico Batum did not look anything like his 20-point performance against the Heat in the Play-In tournament, but one cannot expect him to repeat what was an unusual game for himself continually.

Much more damning was the performance of guard Buddy Hield who only took two shots against New York, missing both in a scoreless effort. While Hield has proven he can do more than simply shoot since coming to Philadelphia, his shot remains an inconsistent mystery that must be solved less the Sixers fail to make it out of the first round.

Hield has recently spoken of his need to seize opportunities when they come his way. He certainly failed to do so in Game 1, but there is still time for him to turn this series around. Hield has vowed to be more aggressive moving forward, but he’ll need to establish a consistent level of aggression for it to matter.

III. Keep the big fella healthy

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid grabs his left knee after the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Some would argue that keeping Joel Embiid in as good health as possible remains the most important key to this series against New York. By far the most difficult of the three and nearly uncontrollable, keeping Embiid in as good health as possible remains the most important key to this series. Contrary to what some expected, Embiid dominated New York starting center Isaiah Hartenstein prior to his knee injury and still went on to finish with a strong 29-point performance on the night.

While injuries are notoriously difficult to prevent, particularly in the case of Joel Embiid, he should not take excessive and unnecessary risks like the off-the-backboard slam, on which the landing caused his latest injury/re-aggravation.

It’s a fine line between bubble-wrapping Embiid, which they cannot do either, and him playing with reckless abandon, but that balance must be found if the Sixers are going to come out of this series victorious.