Mitchell Robinson dominates down low to give Knicks immeasurable boost in Game 1 vs. 76ers

Mitchell Robinson Knicks
Mitchell Robinson (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and in Game 1, his name was Mitchell Robinson.

In 30 minutes off the bench, the New York Knicks’ 7-foot center was as immovable down low as he was inspiring, recording eight points with 12 rebounds — seven on the offensive glass — with four blocks.

His efforts led the Knicks’ charge on the offensive boards as they held a 23-9 advantage over the Philadelphia 76ers, which played the key role in a massive 26-8 discrepancy in second-chance points that ultimately set the table for a 111-104 victory.

“Oftentimes we’re getting to the bonus early because we’re getting fouled on it,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Then, the kick-outs are giving us the three… sometimes it’s the drive that gets us to the free-throw line. Our team has a good understanding of that.”

Robinson neutralized 76ers star Joel Embiid, too, playing stifling defense to neutralize a fast Philadelphia start to allow the Knicks to get back into it after falling behind by 10 early. While being guarded by Robinson in Game 1, Embiid shot just 2-of-11 from the field with seven points.

The tenacity was none more evident than in the fourth quarter with the Knicks leading 98-92 with two-and-a-half minutes to go. Embiid backed Robinson down from the left but missed a turnaround, right-handed hook shot. Robinson secured the rebound and with Embiid draped over him, secured the jump ball.

“This is the playoffs, it’s a dog fight,” Robinson said. “You gotta go out there and you gotta fight for your life.”

Robinson was always going to be one of the keys to the Knicks’ chances against the 76ers for his prospective ability to neutralize Embiid, the reigning NBA MVP. But ankle surgery held him out for nearly four months, prompting head coach Tom Thibodeau to bring him off the bench behind Isaiah Hartenstein to ease him back into the mix. 

The strategy seems to be working as the league’s most dominant offensive rebounder continues his shine.

“The whole month of April, we looked at him like, ‘OK, he has to work his way back,'” Thibodeau said. “When you’ve been out as long as he’s been, he’s done a great job putting the work in. You could see his timing’s coming around… To be able to battle and be physical and move his feet and anchor the defense, the blocked shots, the offensive rebounding, that’s huge.”

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