The Philadelphia 76ers (34-18) took on the New York Knicks (29-26) at Madison Square Garden. In the second game of their road trip, the Sixers blew a big first-half lead to lose 108-97.

Let’s break down the Sixers’ loss to Knicks.

Sixers player notes:

Joel Embiid: 31 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 6-15 FG shooting

Embiid had a strong showing in the Sixers’ last matchup with the Knicks. With Mitchell Robinson sidelined, he shot seven free throws in just the first quarter alone and gave Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein all sorts of problems with his size and physicality. His rebounding was good for the most part, rather than great as the box score would suggest. His shooting from the field was poor for his standards and he turned the ball over frequently.

The Sixers crushed it in his minutes, allowing the Knicks to keep it close because of a struggling bench unit.

James Harden: 12 points, 8 rebounds, 12 assists, 2 steals, 4-11 FG shooting

Harden assisted each of the Sixers’ first four buckets and seven of their first 10. He got into the teeth of the Knicks’ defense and did a lot of damage before he even scored his first point. He eventually got on the board and didn’t shoot all that well but still had a good (but not good enough) impact for Philly.

Tyrese Maxey: 12 points, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 4-8 FG shooting

Maxey scored twice in his first minute of action but didn’t do much else that was of serious impact, though he did score efficiently. On an and-one drive, he got slapped so hard by Evan Fournier that the entire arena heard it loud and clear.

Tobias Harris: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 5-12 FG shooting

Harris did a very good job filling in the cracks for the Sixers. He took on the challenge of guarding Jalen Brunson in the second half, ran in transition well and pulled down a fair share of boards.

P.J. Tucker: 10 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 4-6 FG shooting

Tucker hit double digits in the scoring column for the first time since Halloween thanks to a quick seven points in the first quarter. There aren’t that many games where he looked that comfortable on the offensive end — though that still doesn’t say a whole lot. Fouling aside, he had a solid night.

Knicks player notes:

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Julius Randle: 24 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 8-19 FG shooting

Randle’s bully-balling made him the Knicks’ most source of offense early on. Especially when Embiid sat and Tucker, he commanded tons of attention and made the most of his chances. He played a big part in digging New York out of an early hole and maintaining its big lead in crunch time.

Jalen Brunson: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 6-16 FG shooting

Brunson bobbed and weaved his way through the defense all night, making him tough to stick on for whoever guarded him. His scoring and playmaking alongside Randle were huge for the Knicks. Although his scoring efficiency left something to be desired, he was moving and grooving often.

Evan Fournier: 17 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 6-11 FG shooting

Fournier has been exiled from the Knicks rotation when the team is healthy but tonight he got the chance to get in the bench unit. He made the most of it, pouring on triples (five makes in eight attempts) and making big plays in the New York win.

Game notes:

1st half

  • P.J. Tucker guarded Randle while Melton guarded Jalen Brunson and had a little bit of trouble keeping the star guard in front of him but did a good job following him through all the New York screens. Tucker also scored the Sixers’ first five points.
  • The Knicks’ offense started out really slowly but stayed in it thanks to some second-chance points. Meanwhile, Embiid drew fouls time after time and the Sixers looked to get out in the fast break. The two paths collided when Harris hit Embiid with a lob that he scored with an and-one layup. His subsequent free throw put the Sixers up by 14 and they would later go on to lead by 21.
  • The Sixers’ bench unit had a spectacular game on Friday. Against a much more competitive opponent, they did not. Defensive miscues and settling for tough shots allowed the Knicks to get back into it with a 17-0 run. As was the case in Wednesday’s game, Paul Reed came into the game in place of Montrezl Harrell.
  • Embiid once again drew foul after foul (some thanks to the Sixers being in the bonus) and Philly held its own on defense with the exception of a few second-chance buckets. Offensively, though, the second quarter was rough.
  • The Sixers’ old starting lineup (featuring Maxey) got a run in together to close out the last two minutes of the half. Each team got some solid looks (thanks in large part to the shot creation of Embiid and Brunson) but Philly went scoreless and held the Knicks to just a pair of free throws.
  • At the break, the Sixers led 53-51, following up a 35-point first quarter with 18 in the second.

2nd half

  • The Sixers switched up their defensive alignment and put Harris on Brunson, Melton on Immanuel Quickley and Harden on Grimes. The adjustment didn’t change a whole lot initially as they still switched on defense. On the other end, they hit back-to-back-triples to nearly push the lead back to double digits before some sloppy play allowed the Knicks to make a little run. Eventually, they went back to the original assignments.
  • Embiid did a better job of keeping Sims off of the offensive glass, which can be tough given how high and quickly Sims can get up. His rebounding ignited fast-break opportunities, one of which was a nice Maxey layup from a Harden outlet pass.
  • Reed was the Sixers’ backup big man in the second half but, like in the first half, didn’t have a big impact.
  • After threatening to do so at multiple points, the Knicks tied things up after triples from Miles McBride and Obi Toppin on consecutive possessions. They took the lead on a free throw from Toppin on their next possession and after that padded their lead with a Fournier triple. Timeout, Sixers.
  • With Embiid back in the game a few minutes after the timeout, the Sixers fought back (despite a frigid offensive performance in the fourth quarter) but still couldn’t completely shut down Brunson and a hot-shooting Fournier.
  • After allowing Hartenstein to snag a rebound off of a Brunson free throw and Fournier to slice and dice through the defense to find McBride for three, the Sixers called another timeout. Put that in the books as one of the worst sequences of the season.
  • Randle and Brunson came up with big shots down the stretch while the Sixers went the final 5:33 of game time without a field goal.

Random thoughts

  • The tip-off for this game was pushed back 20 minutes! It’s probably more like 10-15 minutes since the games don’t start exactly on time, but still. The NFL’s new flag football game at the Pro Bowl is to blame.
  • The Knicks’ alternate court and jerseys are spectacular.
  • First came the Empire State Building debacle, then came the pretty loud “E-A-G-L-E-S! EAGLES!” chants at Madison Square Garden. An “Eagles suck!” chant broke out late in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers will conclude their brief road trip on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics.