Sixers overpower Knicks down stretch in glorified free-throw shooting contest

Knicks 76ers Joel Embiid
Feb 27, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives past New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) in the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers’ era of the James Harden and Joel Embiid dynamic duo is off to a 2-0 start, outlasting the New York Knicks 125-109 on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

After battling back to take a 98-95 lead with 10:05 to go in the game, the Knicks (25-36) were outscored 27-14 down the final stretch, leading to their 15th loss in their last 18 games.

Philadelphia’s star twosome combined for 66 points, Embiid leading all scorers with 37 points — 23 of them coming on 27 attempts from the free-throw line — while Harden posted a triple-double of 29 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds.   

RJ Barrett and Evan Fournier led the Knicks with 24 points apiece in the loss while Julius Randle added 16 points, 1o rebounds, and seven assists.

The flow of the game was stymied by constant whistles that led to an abundance of free throws. The two teams combined for 79 attempts from the charity stripe, setting a new NBA single-game record for most free-throw attempts in regulation.

Behind 13 points from Harden, the Sixers staved off a late 10-3 Knicks run to hold a three-point lead after the first.

The Sixers got off to a 15-7 run to open up a nine-point advantage during the opening portions of the second quarter. While the Sixers pulled out in front by as many as 12, the Knicks kept their deficit at halftime by that same margin of nine despite Embiid posting another 10 in the second to bring his total at the break to 20 — all while going 12-of-15 from the charity stripe. 

It was the 21st time this season that Embiid had scored at least 20 points in the first half — the most of any player in the NBA this season.

Harden himself put together a strong half by posting 15 points, 10 rebounds , and five assists, becoming the first 76ers player to put up 15-10-5 in a first half 25 years.

The Knicks still managed to find a way to hang around well into the third quarter despite Philadelphia looking as though it would blow New York out of the water — a testament to how their defense buckled down on the 76ers’ transition game that was running wild in the first half. 

A three-pointer from Evan Fournier with 3:17 to go in the third quarter brought the Knicks within four.

New York intensity picked up and after a driving bucket by Barrett, a quick steal and three-pointer from Immanueal Quickley with 1:08 in the quarter pulled the Knicks to within one.

Obi Toppin tied things up 14 seconds into the fourth quarter before — following a Paul Millsap jumper — Quickley gave the Knicks their first lead since late in the first quarter with a layup and-1. 

A driving layup from Barrett put the Knicks up three and capped off a 15-5 run, but as the Sixers re-stabilized, New York lost its two main bigs in nearly back-to-back sequences as both Jericho Sims and Mitchell Robinson fouled out within the first three minutes of the fourth.

The Knicks proceeded to run out of gas as the Sixers responded with a 25-9 run, exclamated by a side-stepping three-pointer from Tyrese Maxey — who had 21 points ont he day — with 2:23 to go to take an 11-point lead and put Philadelphia out of sight.