Knicks vs. 76ers: Breaking down the first round 2024 NBA playoffs matchup

The Knicks will face the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs, which presents unique challenges (and also some advantages) for New York.

This breakdown is courtesy of Brendan Brown, who has spent three decades in the NBA as a coach, scout and broadcaster – most recently calling Knicks games for MSG Network.


Brendan Brown: “Can you make it a 94-foot game? The Knicks don’t play with a lot of pace but they played with a lot of pace (for stretches) against Milwaukee and Boston (recently) and scored a lot more and opened it up a little bit.

“Can you do that against Philadelphia? Can you make it a 94-foot game? Because Embiid can’t play that way.

“You can also put Embiid in every single pick-and-roll. And what's his conditioning right now? Putting him in pick-and-rolls consistently will really help you.”

Embiid shot 10-for-23 and had six turnovers in his lone regular season game against the Knicks this year, a 128-92 win for New York. The Knicks outscored Philadelphia by 29 when Embiid was on the court.

The Knicks rank 30th in pace but seemed to play faster in their win at Philadelphia. They had eight more possessions that night than their season average.

Apr 9, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) dribbles the ball against the Detroit Pistons during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center.


Brendan Brown: “Again, Philadelphia has a lot of guys who can match up against Brunson. (Kelly) Oubre is a little bit of a natural matchup. (DeAnthony) Melton is a pretty good matchup for Brunson. There are other guys. They can put (Nic) Batum on him, they can put (Kyle Lowry) on him, they can put (Tyrese) Maxey on him.

“Oubre is a big problem; he’s long enough and quick enough to move his feet then Melton can come in and tackle him; they have several guys who can match up against Brunson. So some other guys (on the Knicks) are going to have to score.”

Brunson is shooting 41 percent from the floor (29 for 72) in three games against Philadelphia this season. Those numbers are influenced heavily by Brunson’s 6-for-22 shooting night against the Sixers on March 10. He played well and shot efficiently in the other two regular season games, both Knicks wins.

Philadelphia finished the season ranked 11th overall in defensive efficiency. New York ranked 9th in the category.

Here’s much more insight on the Sixers from Brown:



TRANSITION GAME: "Sixers rank 18th in pace. Maxey is a tremendous finisher on the break, weaving through retreating defenders. Tobias Harris and Oubre have proven in their careers that they can get ahead of the field and score out front. They can leak out as well. Cameron Payne, in his spot minutes, can push the pace make or miss; will anyone run with him though?"

SECONDARY BREAK/FLOW: "Very key part of Sixers offense. Embiid is almost always the trailer; he can make that top of the key three with time and space. They go to a lot of simple two-man games or dribble-handoffs at the sideline here. Embiid clears people out on dribble handoffs. As secondary scorers, Oubre and Harris are more productive in the flow than in more traditional halfcourt possessions. Harris will find spaces to drive and get to the rim. They are not a huge drag screen team. They set step-ups for Embiid handling the ball on the sideline."

HALFCOURT SETS: "They have a wide variety of actions here. They can direct post or drop for Embiid on either side. He reacts well to quick double-teams but will force shots against late doubles. Bad things usually occur with a late double. They love to isolate Embiid at the top with a simple dribble-handoff to him, which becomes a clearout situation. They run several different pick-and-rolls – they’re staggered and all versions of side and high. They will use (Kyle) Lowry as a screener in side guard/guard pick-and-roll and high guard/guard pick-and-roll to bait switches onto Maxey. They run a fair amount of high guard/big man pick-and-roll lifted where Embiid posts on the foul line after a short roll; it’s the same as (Kristaps) Porzingis in Boston. Maxey is the tough cover in pick-and-roll sets because he attacks in many ways. He uses screen/rescreen and will shoot all the way behind picks if he’s feeling good. He can turn the corner at any time and can split defenders in a more aggressive coverage. Nick Nurse also has some one-timers that are really odd."

SPECIALS: "Nurse is pretty creative with after timeout plays- drawing on the board. There is usually a lot of window dressing to get to the desired scoring option. They will set up Maxey coming off the ball. They will also run elaborate post plays- sometimes to get Oubre or Harris an extra touch. Have to defend through the clock on these actions. Sideline and baseline out of bounds are pretty standard- splits and dribble handoffs."


SIXERS PACE: "Considering Embiid’s condition, what pace can the Sixers play? They are somewhat reliant on fast-break points but they generate a lot of steals and blocks to do so. The Knicks blew their doors off in the only game Embiid played; it was an up-tempo game. How the Sixers choose a pace style is vital; their general scoring beyond Embiid and Maxey is reliant on players that flourish in transition or in the flow. Which way do they go? Walk or run?"


"The Knicks do not really play zone defense, but considering the Sixers ran 10 different patterns against Miami’s zone with limited success on Wednesday night, would you just have a basic zone defense to use? The Sixers went five-out later vs the amoeba zone, and that freed up better looks at three. So, just general spacing worked; the cutting patterns were mostly ineffective."


"They’re 11th in defensive rating and play with a lot of energy and activity but I wouldn’t say they are a five-man unit on a string. They ranked in the top ten in steals and blocks, and that is hard to do. Nurse can be surprising, and almost confusing with his individual matchups. They rotate different defenders on the opponents’ key weapons at different points of the game. Lowry started on (Jimmy) Butler last night; other Sixers defended him later. By the numbers, they do allow a decent amount of points in the paint. For all their activity, their rotations along the backline can be spotty."


"If he is immobile at the back, you have to attack him at the rim. He will drop in all pick-and-rolls if the handler drives deep at him, he will be forced to switch; that’s a big advantage for Sixers opponents because he needs to guard a ball-handler one-on-one. Does he have anything on this end of the floor (in terms of stamina)? Is it on a consistent basis? They played some basic 2-3 zone (against Miami on Wednesday) to protect him against certain Heat lineups. The 2-3 was a little extended up at the top, up off of the baseline. They had trouble covering the corners on reversal passes."

PINDOWN SCREENS: "They are a chase-first team on screens and dribble handoffs. Harris and Oubre are more likely to gap on a bigger wing player. In pick-and-roll, Nurse uses every kind of coverage possible against all different forms of pick-and-roll actions. They ice and switch the most on the side. They are in drop the most at the elbow. They will play drop or switch the most on high pick-and-roll. Depending on matchups, Harris and Oubre are good switch guys and can hold their own for a dribble or two. [Paul] Reed has great energy as the backup center; he can show or trap.

"By switching versus general offensive sets, they stay out of mass rotations. They have segments of play where their rotations aren’t very solid. A solid pass on reversal, if they gamble, produces a high percentage shot. Lowry is a tough defender. Oubre and [Nic] Batum are very long. De’Anthony Melton is physical. But sometimes the help scheme does not match the intensity of the individual defender. They foul a lot; they grab drivers and can have poor rotations. Opponents – the Knicks in this case - must take advantage of the Sixers’ transition defense. They are weak in many areas here. They don’t match up well on the break or in the flow. Threes are available with general spacing. A turnover creates a numbersadvantage on a fast break. At times, they don’t stop the ball or a hard driver to the rim."