The Sixers (32-22) hosted the New York Knicks (33-22) on Thursday. Philadelphia wanted to come back from the All-Star break with a win. New York wanted to snap a four-game losing streak. Tyrese Maxey and Kyle Lowry spear-headed a valiant effort to bring the Sixers back in the second half, but they fell short of a major comeback in a 110-96 defeat.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Knicks were without the services of Julius Randle, who has a dislocated right shoulder.

OG Anunoby is recovering from surgery on his right elbow and was out.

Mitchell Robinson is recovering from surgery on his left ankle and was not available.

Tom Thibodeau started Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, Precious Achiuwa, and Isaiah Hartenstein.

The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a procedure on the meniscus in his left knee.

De'Anthony Melton is recovering from a stress response to lumbar spine soreness and was out, but is expected to return for Friday's game against the Cavaliers.

Robert Covington remained out with a bone bruise in his left knee. Covington is progressing in his rehabilitation program with the goal of ramping up on-court activities over the next two-to-three weeks. He will be re-evaluated in approximately 10-14 days.

Nick Nurse started Maxey, Buddy Hield, Tobias Harris, Nico Batum, and Paul Reed.


- Quite an introduction for Lowry, who took an elbow above the eye on a drive early in his first minutes and left to get stitches. He returned in the third quarter, with the Sixers flirting with a 20-point deficit, and immediately slid in front of Brunson to try and earn a charge. Gritty mentality to come back in what appeared to be a snoozer, admirable that he immediately tried to take a hit to get a stop.

We'll see how much staying power Thursday's game has for Lowry. That body might not feel as fresh as it does now as his minutes climb. But, Lowry was critical to the Sixers mounting a very respectable comeback in this one. It wasn't the most robust debut in the box score. But, his intelligence and feel for the game were a major breath of fresh air for Philadelphia. He doesn't waste any time with the ball, making quick decisions like firing touchdown passes up the court off the rebound to create transition chances or attacking close-outs with purpose and making reads out of the drive.

I don't know if he has any heroic nights left in him. But, if you see the value in Batum, you'll see the value in Lowry.

- Maxey did as much as he possibly could in this one. His finishing at the rim was sensational all night, and he embraced contact on the drive. He was the other reason the Sixers gave those in attendance something to hope for in the second half.


- Second time this season that the Knicks faithful has taken over the building in Philadelphia. The first time, Embiid was available to play and the team was in a much more promising position. So, it's not as if Sixers fans can rest on Embiid being out. Embarrassing; what happened to our beautiful game?

- I'll never be critical of missing threes. That's simply part of the game, and shooting from that distance is inherently disadvantageous and often random. But, at some point, you can't leave as much change at the table as the Sixers did on shots in the paint. Regardless of whether it was on the move or stand-still shots inside, Philadelphia left a lot of offense on the rim. Normally, you might say the saving grace with that is it's hard to miss a shot at the rim long. So, at least the transition possession should theoretically be starting at the rim instead of, say, by the free throw line because the ball popped that far off the hoop.

But, it didn't matter. You could've made the Knicks start every possession from the concourse and they'd have still beat the Sixers' defense down the floor. One problem led to another, and everything fell apart at the same time. The need to get back quickly had the Sixers off balance, and it didn't take much for New York to get the home team defending on the hip instead of squaring up to the ball. Philadelphia spent much of the first half chasing down the floor on defense, which meant that anyone who was ahead of the ball had to protect the paint. Of course, that meant open threes.

- You can't refer to it as shooting luck when so many of those threes were wide open. At some point, you have to take pride in transition and keep the ball in front so that teammates don't even have to worry about making a help decision. If it wasn't the first pass down the floor, it was the second or third pass on which the Knicks lined up practice-level shots.

It wasn't just the transition game that yielded open threes for the away team. The Sixers had nothing for Brunson's ability to toggle between directions and pace in split seconds. He didn't just shred Philadelphia with his own scores; he dissected them with his playmaking, drawing the help and then getting off the ball at the right time.

- Getting lit on fire from the perimeter wasn't even all that embarrassing when we compare it to this next theme. I mentioned a lack of pride in transition defense; the Sixers put up basically no fight as the Knicks stuffed them into a locker over and over again on the glass in the first half. I think we all know Reed is over-extended as the team's starting center right now. Mo Bamba's struggles with sustaining energy and battling physicality are well documented. But, how many times are you going to let Hart fly in and steal a rebound away from you? How many times are you going to get stripped as you explode up to the rim?

Reed's feel for the game is a work in progress (that may very well never get better than it is right now anyway), Bamba's aggressiveness and will are what they are. But, neither had any idea where the ball was headed coming off the rim. It was downright infuriating to watch the Sixers earn a miss on the Knicks' first shot, only to get a new play on the reset because they beat whichever big was on the court to the basketball.

The last thing on the bigs and their rebounding woes - some guys can fake effort, but bigs cannot fake effort on the glass. You either have the advantage because of your size and strength and find the ball purely with those assets, or you can hustle and fight for the ball as it hits the rim. Reed simply allowing the Knicks to restrain him as the shot went up and watch as they secured the glass was unacceptable.

- In fairness, the rebounding issue wasn't all on the bigs. Everyone has to box out. Jericho Sims can't come flying in on a miss and dunk a blue jersey into the floor on the put-back as easily as he did. The bigs have to do their parts, but the other four guys on the floor have to match the physicality. The Sixers weren't competitive because they didn't do the little things to be competitive against this particular team.

- That I rarely have much to say about Harris in these game stories should be considered criticism in its own right because of the skills he's demonstrated and his role as a five-year starter. He's rarely mentioned because he is not a consistent impact player. But, he was flat-out awful in this one. He just came off of a break, and missed the last two games prior to All-Star. So, his time off was actually extended. He was not listed on the injury report. So, the only thing to say is that he was healthy and rested, and still put up an absolute stinker.

No physicality, no attempt to assert himself, and no firm grasp on the ball when he did call his own number. It's obviously an all-hands-on-deck effort with Embiid out for the foreseeable future. Extremely disappointing showing from the veteran forward.

The Sixers (32-23) will host the Cleveland Cavaliers (36-18) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on ESPN.

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