The Sixers (1-2) hosted the New York Knicks (2-1) in Game 4 of their first round series on Sunday. Philadelphia wanted to tie the series at two games apiece. New York wanted to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Sixers lost a battle of identities down the stretch, failing to keep the Knicks away from the offensive glass in a 97-92 defeat.

Before we get to the game, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Knicks were without the services of Julius Randle, who is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.

Mitchell Robinson has a sprained left ankle and was out.

Tom Thibodeau started Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, OG Anunoby, and Isaiah Hartenstein.

The Sixers were without the services of Robert Covington, who has a bone bruise in his left knee.

Nick Nurse started Kyle Lowry, Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

Inside The Game

- They don't make first round series like this one anymore. Early afternoon tip-offs can be weird and random because they disrupt the normal routines of the players involved. But, both sides were ready to go to war at the opening jump-ball. Sure, there were normal ebbs and flows, the Sixers jumping out to an early double-digit lead and the Knicks punching back in the second quarter. But, Embiid and Brunson quickly stole the show in front of a national audience.

The big man, fresh off the revelation that he's suffering from a minor case of Bell's palsy in addition to the knee injury that shelved him for 30 games in the regular season, was absolutely surgical in the first quarter. It was a display of all-around offensive dominance at which even his biggest critics couldn't reasonably turn their chins up.

You want passing? Embiid was happy to be an immobile quarterback, threading dots all over the court for teammates who presented with scoring opportunities. He found Oubre cutting baseline for a dunk, taking advantage of poor floor balance from New York's defense. Embiid saw an opportunity to get Harris involved with a deep post-up on DiVincenzo, lofting the ball to where Harris could catch, briefly fight, and score inside. Embiid played the two-man game beautifully, too. When the Knicks sent help toward Hartenstein, Embiid stretched out the extra defender before triggering the pass.

And when the read told him that there wasn't an obvious pass to make, Embiid's eyes for the basket kicked in. He attacked the hoop with force, refusing to allow contact to get the better of him. Embiid ripped the Knicks' souls from their bodies from time to time, sticking midrange jumpers to counter what had been strong efforts by New York to shut down other avenues for the big guy to pursue.

As paramount as Embiid's offensive repertoire was, his rim presence on defense kept the Knicks at bay in the first quarter. A number of New York possessions made progress toward the rim, and many of them were re-directed elsewhere or resulted in misses inside because the Knicks either conceded that they had nothing against Embiid or were so bothered by his presence that their shooting touches were off the mark.

- But, the Sixers did not run away with this one in the first quarter, and it was all because of one man. New York matched Philadelphia's offensive spark with Brunson, who scored 12 points in the opening frame. Through the first two games of the series, the Sixers were nearly flawless in defending Brunson coming off ball screens. His star power kicked in in Game 3. But, the Sixers lost Brunson on numerous ball screens in the first quarter of Game 4, affording him the space to walk into open jumpers from three-point territory and the midrange.

- Embiid carried his team to a 10-point lead through the first 12 minutes. The Knicks went on their inevitable run when he rested to start the second quarter. There were two problems critical to the game flowing back toward New York in those minutes.

First was that the Sixers lost the plot badly in those minutes that Embiid was on the bench and Maxey was on the court to start the second quarter. Philadelphia barely made an effort to get the ball to Maxey in the halfcourt setting in those minutes. The Sixers might say that they looked his way or tried to get him open with screens. But, there's basic effort and there's force-feeding. They did not force-feed him touches in those minutes, instead conceding that Miles McBride had Maxey on lockdown off the ball.

That lack of emphasis on getting the ball to the best player led to freelancing offense, which went nowhere. The Knicks goaded Paul Reed into trying to create for himself. The Sixers got nothing out of those possessions.

- The Sixers took steps toward pulling away in the third quarter after leading by two at halftime. But, they hurt their own cause as the third frame wore on, wasting a number of possessions that could've been used to keep the Knicks at an arm's length or extend the lead. Maxey rushed some shots, the most notable being a transition corner three with none of his teammates back to battle for a potential miss and second-chance opportunity.

But, Embiid rushed a couple plays, too. He made fine reads to beat the Knicks' coverages, but his passes were a little too hard or imprecise and resulted in turnovers. (I would argue that the ball was catchable on at least one of the two passes, but Embiid was dinged with the turnovers.)

- That stretch of stalled offense let the Knicks scratch and claw back into the game, and everything flipped on Philadelphia. One significant factor in the changing tide was Anunoby becoming Embiid's primary defender. Not only does he have the body to take the physical pressure from Embiid, but that matchup inherently means that the helper is likely going to be a big. Embiid continued to at least try to make the right plays against the adjustment, but the Knicks' defensive rotations to cover up the four-on-three plays were excellent.

- Even when the Sixers looked Maxey's way to revive the troubled offense, he just could not break away from individual defenders. The Knicks got around screens and denied him touches. The only thing he got was a handful of well contested, extremely difficult shots at the rim. No dice.

- Nurse has pulled a number of great strings in this series. But, if the Sixers go down as a three-games-to-one deficit historically suggests they will, many in Philadelphia will spend the offseason wondering whether playing Embiid the entire second half did more harm than good. He had nothing left in the tank as the fourth quarter wore on. When Embiid had nothing left, and Maxey couldn't shake free to help keep the offense going, the team was dead.

- Even if Embiid was drawing dead on offense after some rest time in the fourth quarter, perhaps he could've channeled his remaining energy into the defensive end of the floor. This game was decided by a battle of team identities. Philadelphia did an excellent job of smothering the Knicks' prowess for the offensive glass in Games 2 and 3 of this series. But, the tragic downfall, just as it was in Game 1, was the inability to hold serve when New York's first shot went up.

Some of it was silly accidents, like Maxey going to squeeze the ball after coming down with a Knicks miss and actually popping it loose from his own hands. But, a lot of it was will. The Knicks simply out-willed the Sixers on the glass at the most critical juncture of the game. The precious seconds ticking off the clock added up. The additional chances for the enemy broke the Sixers' backs.

Spare Thoughts

- De'Anthony Melton made a brief appearance in this game. But, Nurse made it clear he didn't feel good about the circumstances surrounding the decision to play Melton given the time he's missed this season, the high-stakes setting, and the physicality of the matchup.

The Sixers (1-3) will visit the Knicks (3-1) for Game 5 of this series on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can watch the game on TNT.

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