How rebounding and defensive matchups shaped Knicks' Game 5 loss to 76ers; looking ahead to Game 6

The Knicks couldn’t hold on to a six-point lead with 28 seconds to play in Game 5. Can they rebound from that collapse on Thursday night in Game 6? Or will the Sixers and Tyrese Maxey ride the Game 5 momentum to a win?

As he has all series, Brendan Brown - who has spent three decades in the NBA as a coach, scout and broadcaster – gives us his analysis of Game 5 and looks ahead to Game 6:


BROWN: “The Knicks have been in the Top 3 in offensive/defensive/total rebounding all season long. It’s helped them survive in tough times. Offensive rebounding is a big part of their general offensive attack. They had just six offensive rebounds in Game 5; the Sixers outrebound the Knicks 46-40 overall and got 12 offensive rebounds of their own. This series is so close that the Knicks can ill afford to come up with a low number like this again.”


BROWN: “The Knicks held Joel Embiid in check in the fourth quarter, once again. He had six turnovers in the second half and nine for the game; he only shot 7-for-19. The problem was the other Sixers were excellent in the second half. As a collective team, they shot 21-for-37 (56.8 percent) and 8-for-15 on threes (53.3 percent); they went 4-for-7 from the free-throw line. Maxey, of course, had 31 points in the second half and overtime, which leads us to the fourth-quarter defense.

“Maxey scores five points right away on Miles McBride at the start of the fourth. The Knicks stick with that matchup - and McBride is responsible for allowing 25 points in various ways the rest of the game. Why did the Knicks not switch that matchup? McBride has done well denying and tracking Maxey at various points of the series; he was good in Game 4, in particular. But you have Josh Hart and you have OG Anunoby to maybe throw a different look at Maxey; maybe play him a different way/more physical. The Knicks were better playing Embiid single-up; they got two late steals that way. But when they helped on Embiid earlier in the fourth, bad things happened and open shots were created. McBride over [Donte] DiVincenzo made sense for clutch offense. McBride makes the foul line jumper to make it 96-90. But McBride couldn’t handle Maxey on a couple of drives, and that hurt the Knicks.”

BEGLEY: Jalen Brunson said the Knicks threw different looks at Maxey in Game 5 but "good players always know when to adjust, so he kept adjusting. He kept creating space and just doing everything he does." Maxey obviously changed the series with his 16-point fourth quarter. The Knicks’ adjustments on Maxey will be key in Game 6.

“We have to make him more uncomfortable and stick together on the defensive side of the ball,” Brunson said of Maxey. “He can’t just see one person. He has to see multiple bodies. But he was very comfortable (in Game 5) and he played very well.”

The blown lead in Game 5 garners most of the attention. But it’s also worth noting that Embiid played his worst game of the series on Tuesday and the Knicks couldn’t take advantage.


Embiid and Maxey combined for 65 points on 24-for-49 shooting (48.9 percent); they went 8-for-16 from three (50 percent); and 9-for-14 from the free-throw line (64.2 percent).

The other Sixers had 47 points on 18-for-42 shooting (42.8 percent);  they went 7-for-23 from beyond the arc (30.4 percent); and 4-for-5 on free throws (80 percent).

BROWN: “Maxey’s explosion gets the Embiid/Maxey numbers up significantly; remember, the Knicks held these two to 50 total points in the Game 4 victory. But the Sixers “other guys” were better in Game 5. Tobias Harris has 19 and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 14 and a couple of big baskets late. Harris made a clutch jumper at 82-77 at the end of the shot clock when the Knicks looked like they were going to run away. Cam Payne has continued to fire away in minutes off the bench.

The weakside corner continues to be a concern for the Knicks in their five-man rotations. When you think that the other guys got 23 three-point attempts off; how many of those misses were on open shots or good shots? That’s something to watch for moving forward. If you are committing a lot of help mainly to Embiid and not so much to Maxey, can you live with that open back corner three?

BEGLEY: Harris has taken a lot of criticism in Philadelphia. But in some ways, he saved the Sixers’ season with timely shooting in Game 5.

As Brown notes above, Harris hit a clutch jump shot while being defended by Anunoby. He also had an assist in overtime and knocked down two free throws with 15 seconds to go in overtime to put the Sixers up four. This was 1S8 Tobias Harris at the worst possible time for the Knicks. Harris and the other supporting cast in Philadelphia will be key in Game 6.


BROWN: “In general terms, I was with a lot of coaches who were reluctant to (foul in this situation). We had success defending the late-game three by switching and just going straight up.

“But there were exceptions to that:

  • Low clock situation

  • Opposing team has no timeouts left

“It isn’t always easy to foul an NBA player in a catch-and-shoot situation from side out-of-bounds. An official will buckle under duress and say that the offensive player was somehow in the shooting motion, as the shooter is twisting and turning, throwing arms up for effect.

“Last night, the Sixers had to go fullcourt on that final possession. It’s much easier to foul in this situation.

“The key to fouling in the “up 3” situation is, very simply, to hack the guy if he dribbles the ball. He can’t be in the shooting motion if he is dribbling; it’s impossible.

“A lot of elements in that Game 5 possession led to the logical conclusion that you take a foul; Maxey took like four dribbles going up the floor, so the opportunity was there.”

BEGLEY: A lack of communication crushed the Knicks on Maxey’s game-tying three.

“In those situations, you talk about what you want to do…. Josh (Hart) has two free throws. You’ve got to communicate what your decisions are,” Tom Thibodeau said after Game 5. “We could have done better in that situation and we will.”

When asked if it was too early to foul Maxey (he hit a 35-footer with eight seconds left), Thibodeau said, “We could have. But we’ll leave it at that.”

Later, Thibodeau expanded on how the Knicks could have handled the situation.

“What you have to do is, they’re out of timeouts, so they're going quick. But you also have to read what’s happening. Is he making both? That puts you up four. Is he making one? That puts you in a different situation. If he misses both that puts you in a different situation.“So you’re communicating that to your players but you’re also, you’ve got to make sure that that’s being communicated to people on the line, too. That’s where our communication has to be better. If you miss two and you say foul, everyone’s got to be aware and alert to what’s going on.”

Thibodeau also didn’t call a timeout after Maxey hit the shot. He seemingly trusted his players to get a good look and they were unable to do so.

But the communication issue is noteworthy. Knicks players cited a lack of communication as one of the factors in their Game 3 loss as well.

“I think we just gotta be on the same page, all five of us,” Brunson said Tuesday night. “I think some of us thought we were gonna foul and we weren’t, but that’s on me. I gotta be able to communicate things like that on the court. So yeah, I gotta do a better job.”

“Obviously, split-second decision (and) we should’ve been talking about it during (Hart’s) free throws,” McBride said. “I think when he’s coming at you full speed, he hit a close-to-halfcourt shot, it’s not much you can do. You don’t want to take a chance where he might go into a shooting motion. Probably should’ve been up on him a little bit more. But you just learn from it….I think if we just would’ve communicated, it could’ve X’d it all out.”

Hart said the communication error is on the players, not Thibodeau.

“I think that's an error on the guys on the court. We gotta make sure we know what the situation is,” he said. “But we can't do anything about it now. Gotta regroup, watch film and see what we could have done better. And get ready for the game.”

Obviously, the Knicks also fouled when they didn’t want to late in the game. Robinson fouled Maxey on a made three-pointer with 25 seconds to play. That miscue gave Maxey the opportunity to tie the game at the end of regulation.

“I’m just going to take it like a man. I f----d up. I got to be better next game,” Robinson said afterward. “….I just got to play him straight up. I wasn’t in a ready position to guard or anything like that. I f----d up.”

Apr 30, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers guards Cameron Payne (22) and Tyrese Maxey (0) during the fourth quarter of game 5 of the first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports


BROWN: "The Knicks have won in Philadelphia; the Sixers have won in The Garden; anything can happen in Game 6 or Game 7. If you are an NBA fan, this has been an incredible series; small 3-4-5 minute segments make all the difference in close games like these. You have star power, you know every guy’s strengths and weaknesses on the floor. There is strategy, there’ve been great finishes; after five games, the Sixers have outscored the Knicks by a total of two points in this series. That’s it, one basket.

"Despite some local media treating Game 5 as a gimme for the Knicks, the BPI index produced by ESPN listed the Knicks with a 54 percent chance to win on Tuesday. And it was that type of a game all the way through."

BEGLEY: All season, the Knicks have been able to put costly mistakes or subpar performances behind them quickly. They’ve been able to rebound after a bad night and quickly get back on track. That trait will be put to the test on Thursday in Philadelphia. Entering this postseason, only 13 of the 271 teams in NBA history that held 3-1 leads went on to lose the series. The Knicks obviously don’t want to add to that total.

“That's all it really comes down to right now. A mistake here or there, a missed shot here or there, a missed free throw here or there, so we gotta make sure we're sharp mentally,” Hart said late Tuesday night. “I think we're prepared with the gameplan, we just gotta go out there and execute it.”