James Harden didn’t get the chance to dance much on the Knicks’ grave when he was in Brooklyn, but he seemed to take a lot of pleasure doing so in a Sixers jersey at Sunday Park.
The Knicks season turned into a train wreck as Harden and quarterback Joel Embiid did whatever they wanted before a large group of Sixers fans chanted “MVP” when the star center was at the free throw line.
The new dynamic pair tied for the quick break often as Embiid finished with 37 points and Harden finished with 29 points and 16 assists while the Sixers rolled, 125-109. Harden can be seen partying vigorously after some Embiid hoops from his plates.
“It felt like I was in Philly,” Harden said.
It also felt like the Knicks season was dead. They played 11 spins in the first half, pooled, and then closed in at the usual halfway through the fourth quarter, beating 19-4 to close in.
After that, Evan Fournier made some scathing statements.
“Sometimes I feel like we’re looking at each other, second guessing what play we’re going to be doing, who we’re going to,” said Fournier, a bright spot with 24 points. “What is he going to do? We don’t have expectations now from each other because we don’t have the rhythm and no confidence in the fourth quarter. So again, as long as we don’t fix that as players, things won’t change.”
The Knicks fought for a while as reserve point guard Emmanuel Quikley led a second-half increase that gave them a one-point lead early in the fourth before they were knocked out. Quickley finished with 21 points on 5 from 13 shots and was 8 to 8 from the free throw line.
This was the Knicks’ fifth loss in a row and they are 3-15 in the past 18. And at 11-under 0.500 at 25-36, the Knicks are looking to a death march to their eighth appearance in the lottery in nine years.
“We’ve come to find out,” said Mitchell Robinson. “We were talking. If something works for us, go back to the same. But every time we have changes. We have to figure out what works for us and we stick to it.”
Robinson and Jericho Sims both committed an attempt to stop Embiid. (Nicks is turning into a developmental movement and Tibodo didn’t play Crown Gibson or Nearness Noel, who was available but not 100% due to plantar fasciitis.)
Embiid attempted 27 free throws and Robinson took the property.
“I should have known that from last time to be more aggressive, especially in the park,” he said. “He is the best player, right? I should have been more focused and ready to play. He did what he had to do and I should have played better.”
From Friday night’s 46-point loss to the Heat, RJ Barrett tried to do a lot early. He finished with 24 points and four turnovers, only shot 9 of 22, and 6 of 10 on free throws. Julius Randle gets another day off (16 points, 4 out of 13).
Randall missed 3 midway through the fourth inning which resulted in a picture-perfect quick break as Harden Embiid led to a fierce championship. The game plan to stop Harden-Embiid didn’t work out and they got another chance on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Thibodeau admitted that the match was called close (mistakes) and that could potentially come in handy for the Sixers.
“When you have two such dynamic players, it puts a lot of pressure on you,” Tibodo said. “If you’re generating speed and there is connectivity — some games the connectivity is marginal, it’s not wrong. Some other games, it is. This is where you have to acclimate.”
The Knicks fell behind 75-64 with 8:08 left in the third game after a pass by Randle was blocked by Mathis Thiepole, who fed Therese Maxi for a fast break.
But the Knicks scratched and scratched — with Quikley the first pest — and trailed only 91-89 after three. Leading Barrett to throw the ball, Quickley stole the inside hits, dribbled to the 3-point line and nailed it to bring the Knicks one point with 1:16 remaining in the third. But there were a few highlights of the Knicks after that.
“The fourth quarter is different,” Fournier said. “This is the time to do our best things and go to our best players. Yeah man, that’s frustrating, because we’re not far at all. We have to win these games. It’s frustrating. Very frustrating.”