3 observations after Lowry debuts, Maxey scores 35, Sixers fall to Knicks

3 observations after Lowry debuts, Maxey scores 35, Sixers fall to Knicks originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers’ first half in their first game after the NBA All-Star break was an exceptionally poor one.

Despite a second-half comeback effort, the Sixers fell to a 110-96 loss Thursday night to the Knicks at Wells Fargo Center.

They couldn't seize an opportunity to move past the fourth-seeded Knicks in the Eastern Conference standings.

New York got a 21-point, 12-assist performance from Jalen Brunson. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 22 points off the bench.

All-Star Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey had 35 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The Sixers were down Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise). New York’s OG Anunoby and Julius Randle were also out.

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said pregame that Melton “will play” Friday night vs. the Cavs.

Here are observations on the 32-23 Sixers' defeat to the Knicks:

Batum, Sixers not near their best early

Nicolas Batum returned Thursday from a nine-game absence with a left hamstring strain. He started next to Maxey, Buddy Hield, Tobias Harris and Paul Reed.

That unit did not open the game well. Hield committed a turnover on the night’s first play, leading to a Brunson transition layup.

Harris air balled his first three-point try. Hield missed a lefty layup attempt, dropping the Sixers to 1 for 7 from the floor, and Donte DiVincenzo’s long-range jumper on the ensuing fast break put New York up 12-3.

A Nurse timeout failed to immediately stop the bleeding. The Sixers’ scoring struggles were their biggest problem early on, but the Knicks were superior in essentially every area. They hurt the Sixers on the glass, in transition, and with solid ball movement when Brunson got double teamed. The Knicks played their game from the jump and exhibited much less post-All-Star break rust.

“Lack of focus,” Nurse said. “We just weren’t getting anything done on the defensive scheme side of things. They were just out playing a lot faster, a lot more physical, a lot harder. Lack of focus and lack of just being ready to go.”

Individually, Batum’s rust was very apparent. He picked up his second, third and fourth fouls in quick succession during the second quarter. The 35-year-old forward got whistled for his fifth personal with 8:24 remaining in the third quarter for backcourt contact on Brunson and was incensed at the call. Nurse challenged unsuccessfully.

Batum played just 18 minutes and had zero points, three rebounds and one assist.

The Sixers’ other starting forward also had a rough outing; Harris recorded seven points on 3-for-9 shooting, four rebounds and three assists.

“He didn’t quite get into the flow of things, didn’t get a whole lot of shot opportunities,” Nurse said of Harris. “I think he’s certainly a rhythm guy and he needs the game to get into a rhythm. I’m sure he’ll be better tomorrow night.”

Lowry debuts, gets stitched up 

The 1,116th game of Kyle Lowry’s NBA career was the six-time All-Star’s first for his hometown team.

Sixers public address announcer Matt Cord made sure to highlight that Lowry is “from North Philly” when the 37-year-old checked in the game. The home crowd voiced its appreciation.

“It was great,” Lowry said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t play as well as I think we can, but it was an amazing atmosphere. The ovation that I got was awesome. I was happy. I was pissed that we lost and we were in that situation, but it was a great moment. ... Now it’s about going out there and helping this team win basketball games.”

Lowry earned some more cheers right away by beating the shot clock with a nifty reverse layup.

The Sixers used Lowry both on and off the ball. Given that he hadn’t played since Jan. 21, Lowry’s decision-making and downhill driving both looked quite sharp. He posted 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting, five assists and four rebounds in 25 minutes.

“He was big time tonight,” Maxey said. “Not just on the court, but (also) his communication in huddles — in every single huddle. There were times where I was trying to run a different play. He’s like, ‘No, we’re running this play. You’re going to be here with the ball and you’re going to do this.’ And I was like, ‘All right, cool.’ I mean, what am I supposed to say? He’s a (six-time) All-Star, a leader, champion.

“But I think he was great, honestly. And then defensively, he did a great job of just communicating, telling guys where to go. We need that. We need that leadership and it’s going to be good for us.”

Lowry definitely did not cruise smoothly through Thursday night. After missing a second-quarter leaner, he took an elbow to the face from Knicks big man Jericho Sims. Lowry went back to the Sixers’ locker room with a towel pressed against his face.

He returned to action in the third quarter with a bandage on his forehead.

“It’s cool. Six stitches. The doctor made a seven in there — nice little seven in there,” Lowry joked. “He did a little seven in there and I was like, ‘All right, cool, doc.’ Hopefully, it’ll be a little bit better tomorrow. It’s a little sore. Still numb from the numbing, but we’re cool.”

Improved second-half showing insufficient

The Sixers’ first four players off the bench were Lowry, Kelly Oubre Jr., KJ Martin and Mo Bamba.

However, Nurse expanded his rotation to 11 men late in the second quarter by subbing in Cameron Payne and Ricky Council IV. Nurse opted for a Council-Martin frontcourt over more Bamba minutes.

Bamba was one of many Sixers to play a decidedly subpar first half. Maxey’s 17 points before intermission were a bright spot, but the Sixers had very little to feel good about over the first two quarters.

“I was just trying to figure out a lineup that could get something going on both ends of the ball,” Nurse said. “We were having a hard time guarding certain things and we were just trying different guys. And then we were having a harder time rebounding the ball.

“It was just trying to get some scoring out there, trying some different guys. And then obviously it started going pretty good with those guys, so we stayed with it.”

The Sixers suffered an embarrassing 36-point loss last month to the Knicks. On Thursday, a trio of Bogdanovic threes sunk them into a 26-point hole before halftime.

To their credit, the Sixers made a surge to begin the third quarter. Hield drilled a three to punctuate a 16-2 run and cut New York’s lead to 71-59.

Though the Sixers couldn’t sustain that momentum the entire quarter, Maxey drove hard, hit tough shots and kept the contest competitive. Lowry knocked down a triple, Maxey converted a lefty lay-in, and the Sixers defended well with Martin as their small-ball center.

A tightly contested Lowry mid-range jumper with 0.4 seconds to go in the third period trimmed the Sixers’ deficit to 10 points. Lowry was strong early in the fourth as well, setting up a Hield three with a pump fake, drive and crisp kick-out pass. The Sixers got the Knicks' lead as low as six points on an Oubre layup.

Ultimately, New York regained composure and restored a double-digit advantage. Maxey was short on two three-point attempts, DiVincenzo beat Hield backdoor for a layup, and the air drained out of the Sixers' comeback balloon.

“It’s hard to beat good teams when you get down like that,” Maxey said. “You’ve got to exert so much energy to fight and get back into the game. I think we did that. We gave it all we had, honestly, in that third quarter. But we’ve got to start games better, quicker, faster, stronger ... and just be better.”