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NBA Playoff Preview Knicks vs 76ers: Will Philly stay Or Will They Go?

Joel Embiid, the 2023 NBA league MVP, and the Philadelphia 76ers are on the verge of being eliminated for the seventh time in the Embiid era after losing two games in a row to Jalen Brunson and the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden.  They were very close to evening up the series in game 2, but the Sixers managed to blow a five-point lead in the final 40 seconds. Embiid scored 34 points, and Most Improved Player Tyrese Maxey had 35 points, but it wasn’t enough due to the lack of contribution from the supporting cast.

Fans in the garden that night witnessed a historic comeback that will be remembered for some time. Doing this without All-Star Power Forward  Julius Randle signifies how much the franchise has improved. Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart shined in the regular season and showed why the team was the No.2 seed in the Eastern Conference this year.  Acquiring OG Anunoby before the trade deadline also took them to another level, and now they’re realizing consistent playoff appearances for the first time in over 20 years.

 Hart scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds by crashing the glass, grabbing multiple offensive rebounds. He also shot 4-7 from three, making shots at pivotal moments down the stretch of the game. DiVincenzo also made some incredible shots, and when the Knicks were down 101-99 in the 4th quarter, he hit a clutch three-pointer,  helping the Knicks take the lead 102-101 after Maxey turned the ball over. The Sixers claimed Maxey got fouled, which led to the turnover, but no whistle was blown. The wild sequence eventually led to the game-winning shot, and Madison Square Garden erupted, rejoicing their 2-0 lead in the series as the clock winded down to 0:00. 

The Knicks’ DiVincenzo investment of $46.8m over four years has paid dividends for the organization. It's the first year of his contract, and he has improved since his tenure with the Golden State Warriors. New York’s new young core is good enough to win consistently in the regular season, but now they’re on the verge of making it to the second round of the playoffs as genuine contenders.  Unless the Sixers bench can offer Embiid and Maxey the help they need, it will be a quick series. Embiid vented his frustrations about the officiating to the media after the game, and he is still confident they will win the series despite the 0-2 deficit.

“ Tyrese got fouled a couple of times, and we just had the same thing happen against Miami (Heat) with Tyler Herro, which was unacceptable too,” Embiid said. “ We’re gonna win this; we know what we have to fix, and we did a better job today, so we’re going to fix it. We’re the better team, and we’re gonna keep fighting.” 


Embiid is undoubtedly the best player in the entire series, and they haven’t taken advantage of Brunson’s poor shooting in the series so far. Brunson shot 8-26 in game one and 8-29 in game two. Even with their centerpiece struggling, the Knicks still managed to win both games. Game three in Philadelphia is the Sixers'  biggest game of the season. Losing means the end of the series, as no team in NBA history has ever come back from down 3-0 in the playoffs.  

Embiid and Maxey could have 40 points a piece, but it would not be enough. Tobias Harris is making $45.8m per year after signing a 5-year contract extension worth 180 million, and he has not scored over 10 points in the series so far. He is receiving star money but performing like a role player. Kyle Lowry is 38 years old, and the Future Hall Of Famer had 18 points in game one, while Harris had seven as the team's 3rd option. General Manager Elton Brand thought extending Harris was the right move, but a player of his caliber isn’t worth almost $200 million. His best season so far was leading the 8th-seeded LA Clippers with 20.9 points per game during the 2018-2019 season.

The Sixers possess the talent to even the series, and their best chances are these next two games in the Wells Fargo Center. Philly fans are known for the pressure they put on their athletes, and the fanbase will not tolerate poor performances in a pivotal game three. If their execution had been better during Monday night's game, they could’ve easily been tied 1-1. 

In the Embiid era, the team has never made it past the Eastern Conference semifinals, and another first-round exit would be devastating for Embiid’s legacy in Philadelphia, especially after winning MVP during his tenure. The farthest he’s ever gotten was game seven in the ECSF versus Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, and Leonard made the game-winning shot to send the Sixers home. Another early playoff exit could cause the front office to assess the team's future after years of trusting the process with nothing to show for it.


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