New York Knicks, MSG

Knicks start playoff march with first round matchup against 76ers

After taking over the second seed in the Eastern Conference on the last day of the season, the Knicks will face the 76ers in the opening round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs. The 76ers beat the Heat in the seven/eight Play-In matchup on Wednesday and earned the matchup against New York.

Knicks Hot Streak

To get to the second seed, the Knicks had to go on a five-game win streak to end the season, along with some help from the Magic beating the Bucks in Game 82. To end the year, New York took five straight against the Bulls twice, the Nets, the Bucks, and the Celtics.

The defining wins in this stretch came against the Bucks and Celtics. Beating the Bucks started the streak and is what eventually allowed the second seed to become a reality. Jalen Brunson had a stellar game with 43 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. Donte DiVincenzo also played a significant role, scoring 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting from three.

The Knicks' win against the first-seeded Celtics was even more impressive. Although the Celtics already had the first seed clinched, they still had their entire starting lineup and bench healthy and playing. New York would run them off the floor by the end of the third quarter. Brunson had another great game, scoring 39 points in only 30 minutes on the floor.

To finish off clinching the second seed, it took another massive game from Brunson against the Bulls in a 120-119 overtime victory. Brunson ended with 40 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists to finish his MVP-caliber regular season. The Magic defeating the Bucks would set the standings for the playoffs, and the Knicks, against all odds, climbed to the second seed.

76ers Matchup

The 76ers will give the Knicks a bit of a typical first-round matchup for a second seed. The 76ers finished the season 46-36, but most likely would have been much higher if not for the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, missing 43 games this season.

Embiid finally returned for the 76ers on April 2, and in the five games he played in before the Play-In, the 76ers did not lose. Statistically, Embiid was having an even better season than his MVP year. He has averaged 34.7 points, 11 rebounds, and 5.6 assists on the season, and this may be the most healthy he's been in his career entering the playoffs.

Outside of Embiid, the 76ers have seen Tyrese Maxey take a huge step forward this season. Maxey has averaged 25.9 points and 6.2 assists in his first season as the second option to Embiid. Outside the star duo, Philadelphia has gotten big contributions from veterans Nic Batum, Tobias Harris, Kyle Lowry, Kelly Oubre, and Buddy Hield.

In the regular season, the Knicks did pretty well against the 76ers. They went 3-1, and each of their three wins was by double digits. However, Joel Embiid only played in one of these matchups, which was the first matchup between the two teams of the season. So, the Knicks have yet to see this current 76ers supporting cast play with Embiid healthy.

The Knicks present one of the better challenges for Embiid with their combination of Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson. Having two centers that are trustworthy defenders on Embiid should go a long way in this series. The Knicks have multiple defenders to throw at Maxey, including DiVincenzo, Hart, and even Anunoby. Anunoby will be thrown around on various guys, depending on the 76ers' lineup.

Another critical advantage for New York is that Philadelphia lacks a great defender to guard Brunson. Guys like Oubre, Lowry, and Batum will most likely get chances against Brunson, but none of these options should provide much of a scare for the Knicks.

As the series progresses, it will be interesting to see what adjustments 76ers coach Nick Nurse makes to defend Brunson. Nurse implemented a box-and-one strategy against Stephen Curry in the 2019 finals, which was the main reason the Raptors won that year. It would not be shocking to see Nurse try various ways to slow Brunson down in this series.

This matchup should be a back-and-forth series throughout, as this 76ers team is healthy at just the right time, and the Knicks have gotten hot at the right time. Game one will be on Saturday in MSG.

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