NEW YORK — The Philadelphia 76ers knew the New York Knicks were going to relentlessly hunt offensive rebounds. It was a frequent topic of conversation ahead of their regular-season and playoff matchups. But they still could not stop them from picking up board after board en route to a victory in the opening game of their first-round series.

The Knicks recorded 23 offensive rebounds in their Game 1 win against the Sixers, who had 33 total rebounds. In non-overtime games during the 2023-24 regular season, only five games exceeded that total (with one performance belonging to New York). The Sixers did have to deal with a Joel Embiid injury scare midway through the game. But they still had another clear idea of why they couldn’t steal the win.

“It was a real-life battle in there,” Kyle Lowry said. “They kicked our butts on the glass.”

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks' offensive rebounding percentage in this game was 50.9 percent, meaning that they got the rebound on over half of their missed field-goal attempts. The only other time they did that this season was when they demolished the Toronto Raptors by 44 points. The feat has only been accomplished in the playoffs eight other times in the last decade.

Dominating the possession battle like that makes it so that star guard/lead creator Jalen Brunson can shoot 8-26 and not have it derail the team. If you look at each trip down the court as its own possession, New York gave itself way more time to score than Philly did. Like a hard-nosed, old-school football team, the Knicks excel at limiting their opponents' time of possession by making theirs longer, grittier and more physical.

“We're gonna have to try to figure it out. We're gonna have to watch the tape and see if we can come up with a plan,” Nick Nurse said. “I mean, it's easy to say, ‘Just block out your guy,’ and stuff but I think it's a little more than that and we gotta figure it out.”

Knicks destroy Sixers in rebounding in Game 1

While simply tapping into more effort isn’t the entirety of the equation for the 76ers, it is a pretty big part of it.

“Yeah, get a little bit tougher, get a little bit more physical with them,” Lowry said when asked about solutions to the Knicks' relentlessness on the boards. “We know what they're gonna do. We know they got great rebounding. Isaiah Hartenstein, he's really good at tapping the ball out, getting to his spots. Mitchell Robinson's good at it. Josh [Hart], OG [Anunoby], they get to their spots. They execute that game plan extremely well.”

The Knicks' very first offensive rebound, which came after their first shot attempt, was one of those tap-out rebounds Lowry mentioned. It was set up by the Knicks switching Brunson's matchup, giving him Tobias Harris to attack instead of Kelly Oubre Jr. using an off-ball screen at the very start of the possession.

Perhaps Embiid would cheat over to Brunson on the empty side regardless of who the defender is. Still, the fact that he does allows Hartenstein to slip by him, getting into position to tap the missed shot back out.

Embiid has the virtue of being bigger than almost all of his opponents and can get away with pretty much clearing them out of the way to secure a rebound. But that's not the case when he's facing centers that are big and possess motors that never stop. Hartenstein and Robinson want to make him work and he has to meet the challenge head-on.

Of course, the 76ers won’t cure all their rebounding woes with only Embiid improving and backup center Paul Reed staying strong. Especially with Embiid's troublesome knee, the whole team has to step up.

“Gotta be physical,” Tyrese Maxey said. “Everybody has to rebound — not just Joel and not just P-Reed. Myself, Kelly, Nico [Batum], Tobias — all of us have to get in there and get the tap-outs and the long rebounds.”

One thing the 76ers can do better is simply find a man to run to to box out. On several Knicks misses, they stood around and allowed a long rebound to bounce back out to an opponent. When it comes to focusing on one particular player to get a body on, no one is as important as Hart.

While Mitchell Robinson ended up leading the game with seven OREBs and Hart's four trailed behind two other teammates (Hartenstein and Brunson each had five), Hart is the Knick who most often swoops in out of nowhere to swipe a rebound. He can save possessions with great hustle and is going to play a lot of minutes, meaning he will almost always be on the court to make plays like this.

Maxey called the Knicks' rebounding prowess a skill and that they “impose a threat that is difficult” with it. He pointed to something that Nurse pointed to before the game: that being in tune with the offense helps the bigs and wings time up their crashes to the glass.

“They know when guys like Brusnson are gonna shoot the ball,” he said, “and they know – Hartenstein, Mitch – those guys know where to crash and know how he misses.”

Hartenstein demonstrated an ability to read Brunson's miss on the first rebound, when he darted for the baseline to get to a ball Brunson shot from further along the baseline. He even did it twice in the span of roughly five seconds when he tapped out when Brunson missed a floater and then followed a missed three-pointer from Donte DiVincenzo.

The Knicks had 26 second-chance points while the Sixers had just eight. While New York did benefit immensely from some hot three-point shooting, the team created good chances for its shooters by beating the Sixers to free balls and making quick decisions.

The 76ers have their own style of play and, given the success they had with Embiid in the lineup this season, it works for them. But now they have no choice but to play the Knicks' game and put forth a ton of effort into rebounding.