Sixers vs. Knicks: Preview and predictions for Game 4

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, center, goes up for a shot between New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, right, and Josh Hart during the first half of Game 3 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers are back at home for Game 4 of their first-round series against the New York Knicks after a huge and much-needed victory on Thursday night. The first three games of the series have been physical, and Thursday took that to another level with multiple technical fouls, questionable tactics, and fouls, as well as some timely shooting by the Sixers to pull away and get their first victory.

As the series has progressed, both teams have become more chippy on the floor, and this may be the most physically exhausting series that the winning team will see in the playoffs.

Sixers game information

Who: New York Knicks (2-1) at Philadelphia 76ers (1-2)

When: 1:00 pm EST

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: ABC, ESPN2

Latest on the Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, left, reaches for a pass against New York Knicks’ Isaiah Hartenstein during the first half of Game 3 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

After two games loaded with questionable calls and, even worse, questionable effort from the Sixers, they finally managed to put it together and grab a win on Thursday night. It’s not so much that the rest of the team stepped up, while some really did; the fact is that Joel Embiid took over on his way to 50 points on the night to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

He was as efficient as he could have been, shooting 13-19 from the floor, 5-7 on his three-point attempts, and a staggering 19-21 from the free-throw line. It was a huge game played by the team’s biggest player.

While Embiid was doing his thing, Tyrese Maxey may have had the quietest 25-point, 4-rebound, 7-assist effort in these playoffs so far. While Maxey had a poor shooting night, going just 9-21 from the floor, he managed to keep the Knicks honest with his speed and was able to get the ball to Embiid when they needed it most. If the Sixers are going to win this game and series, they’re going to need Maxey to keep playing as he has, averaging 31 points on 50.7% shooting and 39.3% on his three-point attempts.

As for the rest of the Sixers squad, Head Coach Nick Nurse finally saw fit to insert Cam Payne into the lineup at the expense of the slumping Buddy Hield, and Payne did not disappoint. In 16 minutes, Payne had 11 points on 4-7 shooting, including 3-4 on his three-pointers.

He provided energy and hustle, hitting a few crucial shots when the Sixers seemed to sputter and, surprisingly, was stepping up into a defensive position, which is not what he’s known for. With energy never an issue with Payne and how he hypes up his teammates, it was a relief to see him get on the floor and do the same thing.

Latest on the Knicks

New York Knicks’ Jalen Brunson reacts during the first half of Game 3 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Knicks won’t simply “go away” and seem to be getting tougher as the series goes on. Knicks star Jalen Brunson had two poor shooting games to start the series. Both Knicks won and then broke out on Thursday night with 39 points and 13 assists on 13-27 shooting.

Brunson is the ringleader of the Knicks squad, and as he goes, his team follows. Getting “chippy” with the opposition and moving creatively to get foul calls led to Bryson going 10-12 from the free-throw line and showed the Knicks how they should be attacking the Sixers.

While Bryson is a constant, the rest of the Knicks squad is not, and they can’t be counted on to keep having nights like OG Anunoby and Josh Hart had again on Thursday. While Bojan Bogdanovic and Donte DiVincenzo were both having poor shooting nights, Hart and Anunoby combined for 37 points on 15-27 shooting from the floor and, more importantly, 7-12 on their three-point attempts. The Knicks have to keep attacking the Sixers, especially when Tobias Harris is on the floor and not really presenting any sort of defensive attack, allowing the Knicks to get the ball in the paint.

If the Knicks are going to steal a win in Philly on Sunday, they’ll need their best games from all of their starters and not just rely on one or two to try and bail them out. It needs to be a complete game from the top down in order to take a 3-1 series lead before heading back to New York for Tuesday night’s game.

What to watch for today

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) drives past New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, right, and Josh Hart (3) during the first half of Game 2 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Knicks and Sixers have played this series, especially the game on Thursday, as if they were the Flyers and Rangers. Thursday saw Joel Embiid with a dangerous foul on the Knick’s Mitchell Robinson after Embiid was hit with a low shoulder to the midsection by Brunson. The frustration of being hacked early and often was too much for Embiid, and he lost his cool.

That cannot happen on Sunday or for the rest of the playoffs. The Sixers need Embiid more than anyone on the floor. Teams are always going to be physical with Embiid because of his size and skill but it’s up to him to make them pay on the floor, not to take liberties with people and their playing careers.

The officials, who’ve been horrible on both sides of the ball, based on regular season officiating, have allowed these two teams to take liberties with each other with such consistency that it’s caused the tempers to flare on several occasions throughout the series. Regardless of what’s happened in prior games, the officials must get control of Sunday’s game early and not allow some of the physicality that they have. If they’re not able to do that, it’s going to go downhill even faster than Thursday’s game had gone.

The Sixers need to win this game and even this series back up so they can go to New York and look to steal a game from the Knicks, as the home team has come out on top in all three of the games so far. They need to protect Embiid, allow Maxey to get open for more quality shots, and have the entire team play defense against a Knicks team that can score points in bunches and in a few different ways.

This means that Nico Batum has to continue to do all of the little things he has done all season, Kelly Oubre Jr. has to get himself back to how he was performing over the last few weeks of the regular season, and Kyle Lowry has to find a way to turn back the clock to 2016 for what could be his last hurrah in the league.

With the starters accounted for, Paul Reed and Cam Payne did well for the Sixers, and Nurse would be wise to use both at some point during the game, especially if the Knicks come out and start taking shots at Embiid. Nurse would be wise to keep Embiid motivated but under control and, more importantly, healthy for what could be a long playoff run.

The real problem for the Sixers is the disappearing act of Tobias Harris, who, while being much maligned for his contract and play over his time with the Sixers, has chosen these playoffs, which could be his last as a Sixer, to disappear completely and he doesn’t seem to care about it. He’s shown no emotion, no drive, no attempt at attacking, and despite the coach saying that he’s “played his guts out” at some points in the series, he’s been removed at the ends of games for a reason.

He simply can’t be counted on at that time, and that seems to be what it is all like in the series. Harris is averaging 8.3 points on 39.3% shooting and 27.3% on his three-point attempts. The Sixers need him to do something, anything, at this point in his career and their season. If not, they’re better suited to start Oubre Jr. and Batum together with Reed, who will get more minutes alongside Embiid.


Sixers 121 – Knicks 109