The Sixers (35-28) visited the New York Knicks (37-26) on Sunday. Philadelphia desperately wanted to snap a three-game losing streak. New York wanted to build on Friday's win over the Orlando Magic. The Sixers outlasted the Knicks in an ugly brick fight thanks to an outstanding defensive game, 79-73.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who remains out as he recovers from a procedure on the meniscus in his left knee. Tyrese Maxey is still in concussion protocol and was out.

De'Anthony Melton remained out with bone stress to the lumbar spine. As did Robert Covington, who has a bone bruise in his left knee.

Nick Nurse started Kyle Lowry, Cameron Payne, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Mo Bamba.

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

OG Anunoby is recovering from surgery on his right elbow and was not available.

Mitchell Robinson remained out as he recovers from surgery on his left ankle.

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


- The boo birds were loud on Friday, mistaking what was largely a first half of terrible shooting for bad effort. The offense struggled largely the same in the first half on Sunday. But, the dialogue was different because there was no questioning how hard the Sixers were working on defense. Philadelphia did one thing - and something they've struggled to do well at all during this brutal five weeks without Embiid - remarkably well.

The Sixes got back in transition while also engaging the ball higher on the floor. That's not necessarily ball pressure; they weren't aggressively hounding the ball and investing themselves in denying entry to the paint. But, they stayed attached as they ran back on defense and teased at ball-handlers with pokes and prods. It caused the Knicks to move more diagonally, making progress up the court more indirectly than with straight downhill pressure. Because they successfully annoyed New York into getting up the court slower, they inherently prevented them from getting into their offense early in possessions.

That balance in transition gradually turned into pressure higher in the halfcourt setting, the Sixers eating up space and forcing the Knicks to catch farther away from the basket. It wasn't a coincidence that the Knicks had several turnovers from stepping out of bounds on their own baseline and either sideline. The Sixers weren't really concerned with following a certain game plan or scheme when the ball swung around the floor. They just wanted to get a body on whoever had the ball. When you struggle with perimeter defense and containing dribble penetration as much as this group has - both with and without Embiid - sometimes just simply accounting for the nearest body can be your best bet. It certainly helped the Sixers turn in one of their best defensive halves in quite some time on Sunday.

- The activity in the passing lanes helped the Sixers get stops when their defensive rebounding failed them - and it failed them mercilessly in this game. But, when Brunson, Hart, and other Knicks attempted to make big plays across the court, the Sixers read it beautifully to create open-floor opportunities.


- Nurse has reasoned that Bamba is starting in Paul Reed's stead because he likes Reed matching up with smaller lineups when the opposing starting big comes out.

That's reasonable in theory. But, not when you can't buy a win and are so ravaged by injuries that all of your regular rotation players are a revolving door on the injury report. At that point, it's about getting the five best players on the court as often as possible. That is especially the case when you consider that horrible first halves have been a theme of their losses over the last month. Even if Nurse's idea makes sense on paper for this matchup, that paper gets shredded as soon as you watch, like, five Knicks possessions.

Bamba struggles to string together long stretches of high-energy play. That isn't changing any time this season. He has no chance of outworking or outmuscling a player like Hartenstein, and the Knicks big man devoured him on the offensive glass over and over again in this game. At some point, you have to just get a little angry with how badly you're getting smoked and give some physicality back. Just to have some competitive fire and pride. But, I'm not even sure an angry Bamba would have much for a bruiser like Hartenstein.

That's why you also have to blame Nurse for how badly Bamba got outplayed on the glass. You can't have him in the game for that matchup.

- Bamba wasn't the only one to struggle on the glass. The number of times a Knick beat a Sixer to a rebound for an additional play on their possessions was laughable. Hart is an exceptional rebounder for his size and position. His skill is just finding his way to some of those. But, you can't allow him to pull down four offensive rebounds on one possession. Get a body on someone.

- I think one of the better snapshots of how a rough offensive night for Harris can bleed into his game elsewhere was him freezing when Reed saved the ball to Jericho Sims late in the third quarter. He then allowed Sims to dunk instead of trying to wrap him up. There was time as Sims had to gather and bring the ball up above above his head for the dunk. Harris could've fouled without allowing the hoop. An uncompetitive moment for a guy who isn't giving his team much of anything lately.

The Sixers (36-28) will stay in New York to play the Knicks (37-27) on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on TNT.

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