Getty Images

For a brief moment, it looked as though the Philadelphia 76ers had just picked up one of the most meaningful playoff victories of the Joel Embiid era. Their MVP center scored 34 points on one leg. Tyrese Maxey, listed as questionable for Game 2 against the New York Knicks, had just nailed a 3-pointer to give Philadelphia a four-point lead with 1:09 remaining. Two Jalen Brunson misses led to Kyle Lowry free throws. The first went in, giving the 76ers a 101-96 lead with 47.1 seconds remaining. At that moment, Philadelphia was looking at a roughly 90% win probability, according to ESPN's model.

And then? 


Madison Square Garden has seen a lot of crazy endings over the years. Larry Johnson's four-point play. Reggie Miller's eight points in nine seconds. Countless Big East clashes. But it has never seen anything quite like what took place over the final 27.1 seconds as the Knicks turned a five-point deficit into a three-point regulation victory to go up 2-0 in this playoff series. 

So, without further ado, I present the end of Game 2 of the first round series between the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Miss

With 47.3 seconds remaining, Lowry missed his second free throw. This was a fairly unlikely outcome in itself. Lowry has made over 81% of his free throws in the NBA. In Philadelphia, he has made just under 85%. He's an NBA champion that has made more big shots than anyone else that played in this game. Prior to Game 2, he had not missed a free throw since April 2. 

Here, he not only misses, but his teammates make almost no effort to get the rebound. Brunson controls it pretty easily, which is helpful because of what a good job the 76ers did in ball-denial all night. The Knicks didn't have to waste time searching for their point guard. He could just grab it and go.

The Scramble

Brunson races down the floor hoping for a quick bucket. When he meets resistance, he passes the ball back out to Josh Hart, who quickly gets the ball back to him. However, that retreat gave Lowry time to race back into the play, as he had been forced to stick to Isaiah Hartenstein in transition. This proves critical, as he is the one who strips Brunson on the drive. If Philadelphia gets possession, it's game over. Lowry has the inside position. But two Knicks converge on the ball as two 76ers trail behind. Embiid and Nic Batum do not make an earnest attempt at recovery, and Donte DiVincenzo ultimately comes away with the ball.

The Redemption

The scramble leaves the 76ers completely discombobulated. Batum has to take DiVincenzo, who sees open space behind the four 76ers hanging around the extended free-throw line. Embiid steps into help-position, but DiVincenzo notices a wide-open Brunson in the corner. Maxey dashes out to contest him, but a quick fake gets rid of him. Even wide-open, this shot is no guarantee. At this moment, Brunson is 7-of-28 from the field in Game 2 and 0-of-5 from 3. He shot 8-of-26 in Game 1 and was 1-of-6 from 3. The 76ers defended him flawlessly for two games. But one bucket and all is forgiven.

Brunson fires. Off the front of the rim. The ball bounces nearly to the top of the backboard, but eventually settles into the net. It's a somewhat traumatizing moment for 76ers fans, reminiscent of the four-bounce winner Kawhi Leonard nailed to beat Philadelphia in the 2019 postseason. The score is now 101-99.

The Steal

Lowry takes the ball to inbound and immediately looks for Maxey. The problem? Brunson and Hart are doubling him with neither guarding Lowry, the in-bounder. With his five-second clock running, Lowry has no choice but the inbound the ball to Maxey as he's cutting towards the sideline. Hart gets a hand on the ball. Maxey leaps into the air to try to control it. He succeeds... but on the catch, he falls to the ground. 

This is where the chaos peaks.

Maxey thinks he has been fouled. Hart seems to think that he committed a foul, as he holds his hands up as if to say he did nothing wrong. But both quickly realize that no whistle has been blown. So Hart reaches for the ball, and Maxey, who reacts to the lack of whistle a hair slowly, can't keep it away from him.

Now, here's where things get even crazier. 76ers coach Nick Nurse claims that none of this should have happened because he tried to stop the game. "I called timeout," Nurse told reporters after the game. "The referee looked right at me, and ignored me. Tyrese Maxey got the ball. I called timeout again, he ignored me again. Then the melee started." The cameras, focused on Maxey and Hart, obviously did not show Nurse in that critical moment, so it is unclear when exactly he tried to call this timeout. The game plays on. The Knicks have possession.

The Rebound

As soon as Hart gets possession, he finds DiVincenzo behind the arc. He fires up a 3-pointer for the lead... but it misses. At the moment the ball is fired, Tobias Harris has boxout position on OG Anunoby. Embiid has Hart. But Batum watches the ball instead of noticing Hartenstein slicing through the gap. He skies for the rebound and pulls in the biggest one of the season.

This was an especially miserable moment for the 76ers because, after getting out-rebounded 55-33 in Game 1, they had largely bounced back in Game 2. At that moment, the Knicks and 76ers were ironically tied on the boards, 44 apiece. But No. 45 gave the Knicks not only the lead in terms of rebounds, but a chance at the lead on the scoreboard. 

The Winner

Hartenstein gets the ball to Anunoby, who quickly fires a pass back out to DiVincenzo for another try. At this moment, all five 76ers are below the free-throw line extended because they were attempting to converge for a rebound. This forces Batum to race out for a desperate contest. It does nothing. DiVincenzo swishes the 3-pointer. The Knicks lead 102-101.

The Block

The one benefit of not getting off his timeout during the previous inbound is that Nurse did have a timeout available to draw up a play after DiVincenzo's bucket. He takes advantage of it, and decides to call a variation of a play he's used several times this season. Philadelphia advanced the ball with the timeout, but Maxey still began the play in the back court. The goal is to allow him to drive to the rim with a head of steam, and he seemingly succeeds.

However, the design of the play calls for Embiid to screen Anunoby off of him. Philadelphia chooses to leave its three remaining players spaced out to hopefully give Maxey a clear paint with only the bigger, slower Hartenstein in front of him. The 76ers could have tried to have Batum back-screen Hartenstein, but as the inbounder, given the time constraint here, there's a chance he would have been called for a moving screen if he'd tried. No, Philadelphia was comfortable with Maxey in a foot race against Hartenstein.

The 76ers were wrong. Hartenstein stayed with Maxey and blocked his layup attempt off of the backboard, where it is grabbed by Anunoby. Philadelphia fouls. The Knicks get two free throws with 6.6 seconds remaining.

The Brick

Anunoby makes both of his free throws, and remember, Philadelphia has used its final timeout, so the 76ers cannot advance the ball. That forces Maxey to take the ball up the court, but he doesn't do so in a sprint. By the time he unsuccessfully attempts to shake Hartenstein for the second time, he has only 1.5 seconds remaining on the clock. He desperately shovels the ball over to Joel Embiid, who hesitates, but manages to get a possible game-tying shot up at the buzzer. No good. 

In 27.1 seconds, the Knicks have turned a would-be 101-96 defeat into a 104-101 victory. The Knicks now lead the series 2-0 as it shifts to Philadelphia, and the 76ers will have to get over their most heartbreaking loss of the season in just three days, as Game 3 will come on Thursday, whether they are ready or not.