3 observations after Knicks crush Sixers, easily secure season series

3 observations after Knicks crush Sixers, easily secure season series originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

NEW YORK — The Sixers didn't get anywhere near a two-game mini-series sweep over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

New York secured a split by crushing the Sixers on Tuesday night, earning a 106-79 win and moving to 38-27 this season.

Josh Hart notched a big-time triple-double with 20 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists. Jalen Brunson had 20 points and nine assists.

Kelly Oubre Jr. tallied 19 points and six rebounds. Tyrese Maxey scored 17 points and dished out four assists.

The 36-29 Sixers were without Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise).New York’s Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson remained out.

Embiid, who’s been sidelined since the Sixers’ Jan. 30 loss to the Warriors, said on Feb. 29 that he plans to return this season. Asked pregame Tuesday if he had any updates on Embiid’s progress, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse didn’t share much.

“Not really as far as his return,” Nurse said. “I think it’s been pretty widely reported that he has been on the court. I haven’t seen him for a few days.”

The Sixers will travel to Milwaukee and face the Bucks on Thursday night. They dropped to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings Tuesday with the Pacers' win over the Thunder.

Here are observations on the Sixers' blowout loss to the Knicks:

Maxey the only Sixer on the money in early going

Maxey came back after missing the past four games because of a concussion. OG Anunoby also returned from an extended absence with an elbow injury.

Anunoby hit a baseline jumper over Tobias Harris on his first shot and the Knicks were the sharper team to start. Mo Bamba came out high to defend Brunson in the pick-and-roll and the Knicks’ All-Star guard passed to Isaiah Hartenstein, who rumbled in for a dunk.

Fresh off a 79-73 victory Sunday, the Sixers welcomed Maxey’s considerable scoring ability. He brought that to the table almost immediately, hitting his first three field goals and posting 10 first-quarter points. The 23-year-old got his first bucket when the Sixers ran a nicely executed stack pick-and-roll and Kyle Lowry found Maxey for a top-of-the-key three.

Besides Maxey’s play, almost nothing from the first quarter was positive for the Sixers. After an Oubre turnover led to a transition Brunson triple, Nurse used his second timeout less than six minutes into the game. The Knicks built their lead as high as 14 points in the first period.

Over their last three games, the Sixers combined to start 3 for 38 from three-point range — 1 for 19 vs. the Pelicans, 0 for 9 in the mini-series opener, and 2 for 10 Tuesday. Maxey provided both of those makes in his return.

Harris drifts through two-point night

To no one’s surprise, the Knicks drained significantly more contested jumpers than on Sunday. Alec Burks’ mid-range pull-up gave New York a 36-21 lead.

The Sixers made an 8-0 run back that included Maxey’s 1,000th career assist, but the Knicks didn’t let them seize any meaningful momentum. Following back-to-back Brunson threes, Hartenstein converted a third-chance layup. Nurse didn’t hide his frustration on the sideline.

Brunson kept on rolling and the Sixers’ poor first half didn’t get any better. Nurse stuck with a nine-man rotation, removing KJ Martin and playing Buddy Hield off the bench for a second consecutive game. Martin checked in at the 10:35 mark of the fourth quarter, which was essentially garbage time.

Harris was peripheral and deeply ineffective overall, recording two points on 1-for-6 shooting, three rebounds and one assist.

As Nurse has noted previously, the Sixers need Harris to be helpful in other areas when he’s not delivering his usual production and efficiency as a scorer.

It’s fine if the Sixers’ offense doesn’t run as much through Harris when he’s being double teamed in the post or guarded by a great defender such as Anunoby. It’s also normal to have some cold shooting patches. However, the Sixers can’t afford for Harris to drift through long stretches of games (or entire games, for that matter), especially against an intense, high-energy opponent like the Knicks.

No drama about season series outcome

Down as many as 21 points in the second quarter, the Sixers began the third well and cut their deficit to 61-51 on a Maxey three.

They didn’t capitalize on a couple of chances to draw closer. Bamba failed to slam home a dunk, Maxey couldn’t convert a put-back layup, and Harris missed from close range.

A few minutes later, Hart reached his triple-double by finding Brunson cut free for a layup. The Knicks’ advantage soon swelled to 28 points on a breakaway Anunoby dunk.

Though New York got plenty of strong performances, the Sixers’ defensive level also dipped dramatically. Their offense was seriously out of sync during an abysmal period late in the third quarter, too. They struggled with plenty of fundamentals — cleanly executing called plays, properly spacing the floor, taking reasonable shots. Contested mid-range jumpers by Paul Reed and Cameron Payne bailed them out of two disjointed possessions.

With victories by 36 and 27 points this year over the Sixers, the Knicks thoroughly deserved their 3-1 regular-season series win.