Knicks vs. 76ers takeaways: Jalen Brunson shines in Game 6 win, Joel Embiid fades in season-ending loss

The New York Knicks are moving on in the 2024 NBA playoffs, ousting the Philadelphia 76ers with a 118-115 win in Game 6 on Thursday night. It was a fitting end to a crazy back-and-forth series. The Knicks were led by Jalen Brunson's 41 points, and the New York guard made multiple clutch shots in the fourth quarter to help secure the series-clinching win. Josh Hart's 3-pointer with 24 seconds left gave the Knicks a 3-point lead that they did not relinquish.

Joel Embiid had another monster stat line for the 76ers, scoring 39 points with 13 rebounds. Buddy Hield and Nico Batum combined for 36 points off the Sixers' bench and hit nine 3-pointers. Tyrese Maxey, after his heroics in Game 5, had a quieter night with 17 points.

The Knicks jumped out to a 22-point lead in the first quarter, but the Sixers erased the deficit before halftime as Hield caught fire off the bench. The Knicks then led 109-101 with three minutes left, but the Sixers rallied again and Maxey tied the game at 111-11 before Josh Hart's clutch triple.

The Knicks advance in the 2024 NBA playoff bracket to face the sixth-seeded Indiana Pacers in the second round. Here are the biggest takeaways from tonight's game:

The Knicks picked their poison because they knew the antidote

Joel Embiid shot 7-of-19 from the floor in both Game 4 and 5, committing 13 total turnovers in the process. That was no accident. The Knicks were very intentional about throwing a variety of double-teams at him. OG Anunoby fronted him in the post relentlessly down the stretch of Game 4. The doubles came everywhere in Game 5. This was a conscious decision. The Knicks chose not to let Embiid beat them. Well, in Game 5, that meant that Tyrese Maxey would. Josh Hart and Deuce McBride largely defended him straight up, chasing him through screens without much help. The result was a 46-point explosion and a Game 5 win for Philadelphia.

So the Knicks flipped the script in Game 6. Instead of making Hart Maxey's primary defender, they put Donte DiVincenzo on him. DiVincenzo is a worse defender, but his job was easier. The Knicks threw extra help Maxey's way instead of Embiid's. The idea, this time, was to make Embiid beat them instead of Maxey. He did just that for most of the game. You don't score 39 points by accident. But there was a secondary motive here. Maxey is young, a guard and ultra athletic. Embiid is a lumbering, injured, 30-year-old big man. So the Knicks allowed Isaiah Hartenstein to defend him one-on-one not necessarily because they thought it would work, but because they thought it would tire him out. The idea was to exhaust him so that when the fourth quarter came, he wouldn't have enough gas left in the tank to take Philly over the top. By the numbers, it was a sound approach:

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Embiid closed the series having shot 23.1% from the floor in fourth quarters. Across seven career postseason runs, Embiid has never hit 50% of better of his fourth-quarter field goal attempts. He's not entirely to blame for that. Philadelphia has had a notoriously bad group of backup centers in that stretch, and the 76ers always lose the minutes he rests so badly that he has to play more than he probably should. This series was no exception. Philadelphia finished the series +47 in Embiid's minutes and still somehow lost. He and Maxey were spectacular in the series. The rest of the team, obviously, was not.

But New York's approach in Game 6 whittled that two-man team down to just one. By boxing Maxey out of the offense for three quarters, they made it that much harder for him to find his rhythm in the fourth. In the end, that was just enough for the Knicks to hold off the 76ers and win the series.

And now, Philadelphia will spend the offseason trying to correct that mistake. The 76ers are primed for roughly $65 million in cap space this summer. They can potentially add a third star to help keep Embiid fresh later in playoff games. They could get the right backup center so they don't have to overextend his minutes. Daryl Morey has reached his last chance to make this work with Embiid. As tonight proved, the 76ers simply can't rely on him to win them these games and series by himself.

So much for having the second-best player?

In December, TNT's Kenny Smith infamously said that in "every game [the Knicks] play, they have the second best player." He, in particular, was blasted for that quote, and Brunson himself roasted him a bit after the game. But the sentiment wasn't exactly uncommon. Brunson was a sub-All-Star level sidekick two years ago in Dallas. As spectacular as he was in the 2023 playoffs, people forget that it was actually Julius Randle that earned an All-Star nod from the 2022-23 Knicks. The common belief surrounding Brunson entering this season was that he was a very good player, but not exactly the sort to lead a team to a championship.

Well, he just went into the reigning MVP's building for a closeout game and outscored him in a win. Brunson struggled in the first two games of the series. He scored 39 or more in the next four. He has now scored 519 points in 17 playoff games as a Knick. That's an average of 30.52 points as a nominal No. 1 option on an offense, since he was playing second-fiddle to Luka Doncic in Dallas. That figure would rank him No. 3 all time on the all-time playoff points per game leaderboard behind Michael Jordan and Doncic.

The entire concept of questioning whether "Player X" is good enough to be the best player on a championship team is a somewhat flawed exercise. What kind of roster are we talking about? What kind of injury luck did that team have? Is it a weak or a strong field? Not all of those players are made equal. Isiah Thomas was not as good as Michael Jordan. Giannis Antetokounmpo is not LeBron James.

Brunson, despite the numbers, may not be Jordan or James. But time and time again, he's proven capable of being better than whoever the other team puts up against him. If he could do it against an MVP in this round, who's to say he couldn't do it against anyone else in the league today? With the right teammates and the right luck, Brunson can stand up to just about anyone.

Philadelphia's finest are now New York legends

Brunson's performance speaks for itself. But remember, the Knicks have two more Villanova national champions on their team. Josh Hart made the game-winning 3-pointer tonight. He scored eight points in the last two minutes of Game 1 to seal that one as well, and he got the critical steal of Tyrese Maxey that swung Game 2. Donte DiVincenzo made the game-winning 3-pointer in Game 2. He was Maxey's primary defender in Game 6, in which he was also New York's second-leading scorer with 23 points after playing all 48 minutes.

Philadelphia's professional team was, in essence, beaten by the core of its greatest ever college team. Now Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo, three of the best collegiate Philadelphia athletes of all time, are making a serious run at New York immortality. If losing this series didn't sting enough already, Philadelphia has also seemingly lost three local icons to its northeastern rival.

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FINAL: Knicks 118, 76ers 115

An all-time first-round series has officially come to a close. The New York Knicks have defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 118-115, to win the series 4-2. They will advance to the second round to face the Indiana Pacers, their old rivals from the 1990's. Jalen Brunson led the way for New York with 41 points, and he seemingly scored every bucket when it mattered down the stretch. Joel Embiid was spectacular as well with 39 points, but the Knicks had just a little bit more left in the tank. Now the 76ers enter a pivotal offseason in which they can create upwards of $65 million in cap space to rebuild this team. They'll have to improve if they want to win a rematch with New York next season.

May 3, 2024, 3:45 AM
May. 02, 2024, 11:45 pm EDT
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Josh Hart, a shaky 3-point shooter all season, has come up huge from deep all series. That 3-pointer with 24.4 seconds remaining just gave the Knicks a 114-111 lead.

May 3, 2024, 3:37 AM
May. 02, 2024, 11:37 pm EDT
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A critical review and a tie game

Oh boy. Tyrese Maxey gets blocked at the rim down three... but a foul is called on Isaiah Hartenstein. They go to review to check if he goaltended, which would put Maxey in position to tie the game at the line. The review goes Philly's way, and Maxey ties the game at 111 with 34.9 seconds remaining. Just unbelievable. 

May 3, 2024, 3:33 AM
May. 02, 2024, 11:33 pm EDT
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Knicks are 3:26 away from the Pacers

Jalen Brunson has 37 points and 11 assists in the game and has dominated the fourth quarter. The Knicks now lead by eight with 3:26 remaining. Never say never in this crazy series, but the Knicks are just a few good defensive possessions away from reaching the second round and facing their old rivals, the Pacers.

May 3, 2024, 3:21 AM
May. 02, 2024, 11:21 pm EDT
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Philly's risk backfires

Nick Nurse just challenged a foul on Joel Embiid after he hit Isaiah Hartenstein on the head. The argument for Philly was that it was the ball, not Embiid, that caused the harm to Hartenstein, who fell to the ground afterward. The Replay Center disagreed, and it's still a foul. The 76ers are now out of challenges the rest of the way.

May 3, 2024, 3:18 AM
May. 02, 2024, 11:18 pm EDT
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Which center will the Knicks close with?

Something to watch after this timeout: Mitchell Robinson has defended Joel Embiid far better tonight than Isaiah Hartenstein, but Hartenstein has been in the game over the last few minutes. Which center does Tom Thibodeau close with? The advantage of Hartenstein is his floater. He can generate offense with Joel Embiid refusing to defend in space. 

May 3, 2024, 3:10 AM
May. 02, 2024, 11:10 pm EDT
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Philly sacrifices some points, but gets the rest advantage

The Knicks +4'd Philly in those Embiid bench minutes, and with that, they lead 92-88 with roughly nine minutes left in the game. But look at the minutes breakdown so far. Brunson has played 38 minutes. DiVincenzo has played 39. Anunoby has played 36. Hart has played 37. The Sixers will be the fresher team down the stretch. The Knicks got the lead benefit of those extra Philly bench minutes.

May 3, 2024, 3:03 AM
May. 02, 2024, 11:03 pm EDT
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The all-important bench minutes

Joel Embiid is on the bench. The Knicks have owned these minutes all series, and sure enough, they get a quick OG Anunoby 3 to start things off in the fourth. Philly's bench has been so good all night, but it needs to come up big here if Embiid is going to return to a close game. As so many second quarters in this series have shown, just a few bad minutes can swing games away from Philadelphia.

May 3, 2024, 2:59 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:59 pm EDT
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Philadelphia's drop-coverage is saving New York

We just covered it with Hartenstein's floater, but the truth is, Joel Embiid's drop-coverage on defense is really the only thing saving the Knick offense right now. The middle of the floor is completely open for them because the 76ers don't want Joel Embiid spending his energy on defense. The result has been an incredible Embiid offensive showcase, but if the Sixers lose this game, his defense will be part of the reason why.

May 3, 2024, 2:46 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:46 pm EDT
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Why is Hartenstein's floater so automatic?

Joel Embiid isn't really closing out on Isaiah Hartenstein on that floater, which he's made consistently all night. It seems as though Philadelphia's goal is to keep Embiid fresh by limiting his defensive movement. Considering his Herculean offensive night, that has largely worked. But it's also giving New York one of its few consistent forms of offense tonight.

May 3, 2024, 2:43 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:43 pm EDT
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The Knicks picked their poison

Just look at the way New York is defending Joel Embiid. Isaiah Hartenstein is on an island. This is a choice. They have decided that they are shifting their help towards Tyrese Maxey, who has struggled all night. Perhaps they are hoping Embiid wears down as the game progresses, but right now, Hartenstein just has no chance one-on-one against the MVP.

May 3, 2024, 2:40 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:40 pm EDT
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Joel Embiid looks like an MVP again

It was all Tyrese Maxey in Game 5. It's all Joel Embiid in Game 6. He has 27 points midway through the third quarter. The Knicks haven't doubled him quite as often tonight, instead trusting Isaiah Hartenstein to handle him one-on-one. It hasn't really worked. Philadelphia leads 66-61. 

May 3, 2024, 2:33 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:33 pm EDT
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What a physical game

We've seen physical basketball throughout this series, but this one might take the cake. People are falling on almost every possession. You could conceivably call a foul every time down the floor. It is quintessential New York-Philadelphia basketball. What a game. What a series.

May 3, 2024, 2:30 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:30 pm EDT
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Josh Hart is limping

Oh boy, this is the last thing the Knicks needed. Josh Hart is limping and clearly struggling to get up and down the court. New York is already without Julius Randle and Bojan Bogdanovic. Hart basically never rests. If this is going to affect him, the Knicks are just running out of players. He's staying in the game, but this is something to watch moving forward.

May 3, 2024, 2:27 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:27 pm EDT
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Halftime: 76ers 54, Knicks 51

Well... let's all take a breather, folks. The Knicks certainly need one. After building a seemingly insurmountable 22-point first-quarter lead, the Knicks have already blown it and go into the half down 54-51. It's the Buddy Hield show in Philadelphia, as the 76ers reserve has 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. The Knicks, as evidence by OG Anunoby's missed dunk, are just blowing makable shots, while the 76ers can't miss. The Knicks are going to have to regroup in the locker room, because right now, they look completely out of sorts.

May 3, 2024, 2:11 AM
May. 02, 2024, 10:11 pm EDT
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Looks like we've got a game after all

New York's 22-point lead? Yea, it evaporated in less than a quarter. With 6:32 remaining in the second quarter, the 76ers have already cut it to five behind an incredible Joel performance and some clutch shot-making out of the bench. Every game in this series has been close. Tonight looks like no exception.

May 3, 2024, 1:55 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:55 pm EDT
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It's the bench brigade for Philly

Tyrese Maxey may only have made one shot, but Nic Batum, Buddy Hield and Cam Payne have combined for 19 points and have completely flipped this game since the Sixers went to their bench. This is what Philly needed. Their starting lineup, outside of the two stars, has pretty limited shot-creation. This game might already be over were it not for the bench.

May 3, 2024, 1:52 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:52 pm EDT
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Watch the whistle

Keep this in the back of your mind: we're already at 15 total free throws with barely more than a quarter in the books. Given the physicality of this series, it looks like the refs are trying to keep this one under control early with a lot of fouls. 

May 3, 2024, 1:49 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:49 pm EDT
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Knicks in control, but 76ers fighting back

The Knicks looked like they had the game fully in hand midway through the first quarter. They led by as many as 22 in a dominant opening frame. But Philadelphia's bench, led by Cameron Payne, took the 76ers on an 11-0 run to make things slightly more competitive. It's 36-22 after a quarter. The Knicks have played from behind all series. Now, it's Philadelphia's turn to try a comeback.

May 3, 2024, 1:40 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:40 pm EDT
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UPDATE: Joel Embiid is back on the bench

It's unclear what actually sent Joel Embiid to the locker room, but he is back on the bench for the 76ers. He will presumably re-enter the game shortly, but Philadelphia's bench is playing so well right now that Nick Nurse might give them a bit of time to keep this 8-0 run going. 

May 3, 2024, 1:34 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:34 pm EDT
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Joel Embiid headed to the locker room

We don't know what exactly is happening, but Joel Embiid has gone into the Philadelphia locker room with an apparent injury. He's walking under his own power, but he usually takes his rest at the beginning of the second quarter, so this seems like it's a health issue. We'll keep you posted when we know more. Embiid was the only 76er to score tonight before he went to the bench.

May 3, 2024, 1:30 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:30 pm EDT
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It's been eight minutes and one 76er has scored

This is not a drill. We're more than halfway done with the first quarter and Joel Embiid is still the only 76er that has scored. This is the fear for Philadelphia. They have two shot-creators and one of them has gone cold. This is the nightmare scenario, but it was always a possibility, and it's happening in the worst possible moment.

May 3, 2024, 1:28 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:28 pm EDT
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It's Joel-on-Five so far for Philly

The 76ers have seven points as of this writing, and are about to go the line for two more. Joel Embiid is responsible for all of Philadelphia's offense thus far. The 76ers have gotten Embiid going at points in this series and they've gotten Tyrese Maxey going at points in this series, but they're going to need both to win this game. Right now, they only have one.

May 3, 2024, 1:22 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:22 pm EDT
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Smart adjustment on Maxey

The Knicks have really shaken up their approach against Tyrese Maxey, and it's working. He's scoreless so far. In Game 5, the Knicks largely just let Josh Hart and Deuce McBride cover him one-on-one. They'd chase him over screens, but he's so fast and has such shooting range that he still managed to burn the Knicks for 46 points. Well, tonight, the Knicks went with Donte DiVincenzo on Maxey. He's a worse individual defender, but the Knicks have compensated by throwing extra help at the ball whenever Maxey has driven. Hart is a better help-defender than a man-defender anyway, and the Knicks have thrived thus far in this alignment.

May 3, 2024, 1:17 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:17 pm EDT
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Knicks finally off to a good start

The Knicks may have controlled this series, but the 76ers have dominated the first quarters until tonight. Through five games, Philadelphia was +33 in first quarters in this series. Well, so far in this one, it's the Knicks that are out to a 14-4 lead. Now Philadelphia is on the defense, and that's a dangerous place for a team with so little shot-creation to be. They're going to need more out of Tyrese Maxey and even Joel Embiid, who has all four of Philadelphia's points so far.

May 3, 2024, 1:12 AM
May. 02, 2024, 9:12 pm EDT
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Mitchell Robinson good to go in Game 6

The Knicks big man, who returned in Game 5, will suit up again in Game 6.

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Knicks vs. 76ers -- Game 6 info

We're less than 45 minutes away from tip-off in South Philly. Here's what to know about tonight's game.

  • Date: Thursday, May 2 | Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • Location: Wells Fargo Center -- Philadelphia
  • TV channel: TNT | Live stream: Max, Watch TNT
  • Odds: 76ers -3.5, O/U: 201.5
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