'Extra sweet': Donte DiVincenzo shows 76ers what they're missing without Joel Embiid

PHILADELPHIA − Donte DiVincenzo could be forgiven if this looked familiar.

There he was spotting up for a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter, with his former Villanova teammates Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart on the court with him; with his family and friends from Salesianum in the Wells Fargo Center stands cheering him on.

It was a critical juncture for DiVincenzo and the New York Knicks. The 76ers had just trimmed the Knicks' 26-point lead late in the first half down to 6 early in the fourth quarter.

The ball swung around to DiVincenzo, who didn't hesitate to shoot a 3-pointer. He missed.

But Miles McBride got the offensive rebound, passed it back behind the 3-point line to DiVincenzo. This time, DiVincenzo swished it, pushing the Knicks' lead back up to 9 with 8:30 remaining. A minute later, DiVincenzo's layup again put the Knicks back up by 9.

The dagger came two minutes later, with 5:35 left, when DiVincenzo again nailed a 3-pointer, giving the Knicks a 14-point lead on their way to a 110-96 win over the Sixers on Thursday night.

"It makes it extra sweet that we held on for the win, to be honest,” DiVincenzo said modestly. “We kind of let it slip in the third quarter, and putting the game away like that, it feels good.

"But to be able to perform on the court with my family here, that means everything."

Right now, things couldn't be better for DiVincenzo, both on and off the court. He's in his sixth NBA season after the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him in the first round (17th overall) in the 2018 NBA draft, a matter of months after DiVincenzo led Villanova to the NCAA Tournament championship, with 31 points in the title game against Michigan.

But DiVincenzo is with his fourth team since the start of the 2021-22 season, going from Milwaukee to Sacramento to Golden State to a four-year, $50 million contract with the Knicks.

Not only did DiVincenzo reunite with his Villanova teammates in Brunson and Hart, but he gets to play twice each season in Philadelphia. In addition, he's just a two-hour train ride to New York, so his family can see him play as often as they'd like.

DiVincenzo's parents, John and Kathie, have made the train ride to New York often, as have other family members. On Thursday, they were at the Wells Fargo Center, with John wearing his son's No. 0 Knicks' jersey. DiVincenzo's brother, also named John, was there as well, with his wife and two young children.

"It’s still surreal," Kathie DiVincenzo said. "I still look at him like a little kid in the gym, basically. It’s really crazy."

It's also understandable. DiVincenzo was a soccer star growing up in Newark until he decided to focus solely on basketball once he got to Salesianum. Even then, DiVincenzo wasn't dreaming about the NBA. He just wanted a scholarship to college.

Even at Villanova, DiVincenzo didn't think the NBA was a possibility until his junior year, when he helped the Wildcats to the NCAA title.

New York Knicks' Donte DiVincenzo, right, goes up for a shot past Philadelphia 76ers' Buddy Hield during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Philadelphia.
New York Knicks' Donte DiVincenzo, right, goes up for a shot past Philadelphia 76ers' Buddy Hield during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Philadelphia.

"Mikal (Bridges, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets) and Jalen (Brunson) were getting all of the national attention," DiVincenzo said about his junior year. "I was just kind of flying under the radar. I knew I could play. I just had that confidence that I could play at this level."

Look at DiVincenzo now.

That "little kid in the gym" is 6-foot-4, 203 pounds and has become an integral part of the Knicks rotation. That became apparent over the last nine games especially, when Knicks stars Julius Randle and OG Anunoby, both forwards, suffered significant injuries.

In addition, forward Mitchell Robinson had ankle surgery recently, sidelining the Knicks' starting frontcourt.

In the first full game without Randle and Anunoby, on Jan. 30 against Utah, DiVincenzo had 33 points. This was exactly one month after DiVincenzo had a career-high 38 points against Indiana. He also had 32 points against Memphis on Feb. 6 and 36 points two nights later against Dallas.

Including DiVincenzo's 16 points against the Sixers, DiVincenzo has averaged 25.3 points per game over those nine games.

"He’s been terrific. Terrific," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think this is probably his best stretch of basketball. He’s letting it fly. There’s no hesitation. We need high-volume threes and he’s providing that. He’s taking 14, 15 threes in a game, and he’s shooting it very efficiently. He’s taking good shots ... We needed his scoring."

In all, DiVincenzo is averaging 13.7 points per game, the highest of his career. DiVincenzo is also shooting 41.4% on 3-pointers, third in NBA among those who have attempted at least 335 threes. The two players ahead of him are Milwaukee's Malik Beasley and Warriors star Stephen Curry.

"I’m just picking my spots, staying aggressive," DiVincenzo said. "We have a lot of talented players on our team. With OG and Julius being out, there’s just a big hole, and everybody has to step up. Being aggressive is the best way to fill that hole a little bit.

"Obviously, you can’t make up directly for what they bring. But collectively, I think all of us have stepped up."

And DiVincenzo is showing the Sixers what they're missing without their star center Joel Embiid, who recently had knee surgery. There's no timetable for a return. But the Sixers are 3-9 without Embiid since he first hurt his knee Jan. 25, and 6-15 without him overall this season. .

The Sixers are 32-23 overall this season, and are fifth in the Eastern Conference, 1½ games behind the Knicks (34-22).

The Sixers have tried adding sharpshooters recently, trading for Buddy Hield, then signing 38-year-old Kyle Lowry, another former Villanova star who made his Sixers debut Thursday night.

It hasn't made much of a difference although Lowry showed some grit, coming back from a facial laceration when he got clobbered by Knicks forward Jericho Sims under the basket.

Lowry finished with 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 25 minutes. But that, along with Tyrese Maxey's 35 points, weren't enough.

DiVincenzo made sure of that with his clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. After the second one, he ran downcourt, his right arm dangling by his side with three fingers pointing downward, his left arm across his chest.

Then he looked to the crowd and smiled. After all, things are going well for DiVincenzo off the court, too. He recently was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, and they're expecting their first child next month, a boy.

"It's exciting, for sure," he said.

That applies to everything: His pending fatherhood, his role with the Knicks, his reunion with his Villanova teammates, and his proximity to his family in Delaware.

Contact Martin Frank at Follow on X @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Donte DiVincenzo shows 76ers what they're missing without Joel Embiid