Joel Embiid left the game 20 seconds into the second quarter with an injury, but the 76ers still managed to defeat the New York Knicks 118-101 Wednesday night en route to the team’s eighth straight victory.
Embiid logged eight minutes of action in the first quarter and returned to the court for the start of the second. but didn’t make it out of the first minute of play. The center and newly returned, Markelle Fultz, collided on a loose ball scamper, as the bent down Embiid connected with the much shorter Fultz’s head. Embiid immediately fell to the floor in apparent pain, and remained down for a few moments, before making his way to the locker room, grasping his face the whole way. He would not return to action, but Embiid was not put into concussion protocol, an obvious good sign for concerned 76ers’ fans who collectively hold their breath every time Embiid hit the hardwood.
In the eight minutes that Embiid played, and the subsequent 12 played in the first quarter, the 76ers found themselves down early. After a Robert Covington three to open the game, the Knicks went on a 7-0 run, forcing the 76ers to burn a timeout less than two minutes into the game. The timeout would prove fruitful for Philadelphia, as the 76ers went on a turnaround 12-2 run of their own, taking a 15-9 lead. J.J. Redick led the way throughout this stretch, scoring seven of the teams first 15 points. Redick struggled early in the game from beyond the arc, but finished the night 3-10 from three, and 8-17 from the field. Redick was the 76ers’ second leading scorer on the night, pouring in 21 points.
In the first 12 minutes of action, the 76ers shot the lights out, knocking down 61 percent of their shots from the field. Philadelphia took a first quarter lead, 37-28.
After Embiid exited with the apparent head injury, which would later be ruled as a facial contusion, Head Coach Brett Brown had to get creative with his lineup. With Amir Johnson inactive for the evening, Brown turned to Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric, and even Ben Simmons to fill the void left by Joel Embiid. These switches were met with mixed results, as Ben Simmons face certain struggles against the more physical Enas Kanter. Kanter finished the night with 17 points and 14 rebounds, the most rebounds among all Knicks.
Saric fared fare better on the low block, knocking down 9-19 shots from the field, including 2-5 from three. Saric led all scorers with 26 points. He added 14 rebounds and five assists. Brett Brown gave high praise to Saric, calling his play motivational to his teammates.
“It was truly inspirational stuff. That’s what we want to be, and, for the most part, that’s what we are. He was our MVP tonight,” Brown said.
After the 76ers used a 7-0 run to open their lead to eight, 49-41, the Knicks stormed right back and collected a 13-5 run of their own. Concurrently, Philadelphia lost its touch for the field, as both sides of the court struggled without Embiid’s presence.
The Knicks would continue their surge, and eventually tie the game at 56, but the 76ers found a short stride just before halftime, and took a 67-63 lead into the locker room.
As has been noted for the past few weeks, the 76ers do their best work in the third quarter. In fact, Philadelphia was an average plus-12.9 scoring differential in the third quarter since March 15. That staggering scoring differential comes as a direct result of successful scoring and stifling defense coming out the half. Through the first six minutes of the third quarter, the Knicks found the scoreboard just three times, and the 76ers stretched their lead to nine,82-73, over that time. In fact, during that drought, the Knicks connected on just one of ten shots from the field. They didn’t score a bucket for nearly four minutes.
The only New York player that seemed to be unscathed by the scoring drought was Trey Burke, who scored 10 of the Knicks’ 17 third quarter points. Burke finished the evening with 18 points on 7-15 shooting. Michael Beasley poured in the other seven points in the third frame. He finished with a team high 22 points on 9-20 shooting.
The 76ers outscored the Knicks 26-17 in the third quarter, stretching their lead 13, 93-80, heading into the fourth quarter of play.
The Knicks made a final push to open the final frame, scoring seven of the quarter’s first nine points, cutting the lead to eight, 95-87. After J.J. Redick scored 22 seconds into the quarter, the 76ers went cold from the field, failing to score for nearly four minutes before Dario Saric found his stroke from three once more.
While New York made the early push to close the gap, it never pressed any closer, as the 76ers held the Knicks to 21 fourth quarter points. The Knicks scored just 38 points in the second half after scoring 35 in the second quarter. The 76ers secured their eighth consecutive win, defeating the Knicks 118-101.
The winning streak is the longest for Philadelphia since the team won eight in row during the 2002-2003 season. It also marked a four game sweep of the Knicks this season, the first time the 76ers have done that in nine seasons. The win is also the 19th in 19 tries from the Wells Fargo Center With the victory, the 76ers improve to 44-30 on the season. Despite the win, Philadelphia remains locked into the fourth seed, as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night, as well. The 76ers remain a half game behind the Cavaliers for the three seed. They also remain a half game in front of the Indiana Pacers.
The 76ers will be back in action Friday night, when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Hawks. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m., and you can hear all the action on 97.5 The Fanatic!
-By Tyler Zulli