By: Kylan Watson
The Philadelphia 76ers played in their first Christmas game in four years as they played the New York Knicks this afternoon in Madison Square Garden this afternoon. The Knicks couldn’t miss throughout most of this game. However, the Sixers were able to turn up the heat on defense and use a third quarter offensive explosion from Joel Embiid and James Harden. To beat the Knicks 119-112 and extend their win streak to eight games.
New York jumped on the Sixers from the opening tip-off as they were able to move the ball faster than Philly’s defenders could move. That allowed them to find some high-percentage opportunities from the three-point line and before the Sixers could settle into the game, they were down by 11-points mid-way through the first quarter. Julius Randle led them, he took full advantage of the extra eyes on this game and scored 20 of his 35-points by half-time. He got whatever he wanted from the field, and he would attack his defender either via the dribble drive or rising up over them from the perimeter. His hot scoring kept New York ahead throughout most of this game. The two defensive adjustments Philly made to stop him were to blitz/trap him and force the ball out of his hands and put Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid on him. Blitzing/trapping Randle forced him to give it to another teammate who could not make Philly pay for double teaming and trapping him. Additionally, putting the bigger bodies of Embiid and Harris on him, forced Randle to take harder and more contested shots which he could not make. That gave the Sixers enough opportunities to retake the lead.
Philly was able to retake the lead thanks to a third quarter offensive explosion by Joel Embiid, who finally got his shots to start falling in that period. Once that happened there was nothing New York’s defenders could do to stop him. He got whatever he wanted from the field and once he made up his mind to attack the paint there was nothing, they could do but foul him. That aggressiveness allowed him to get to the free-throw line, where he is usually money, but he left money on the table today. He only made 10/15 free-throws in today’s contest. Despite that he still scored 35-points and kept his team in the game. Embiid has been cooking throughout the month of December, he now leads the league in scoring and has been a menace with his ability to find the open man when teams double team him. Tonight, the two men that benefitted from the defensive attention Embiid garnered were De’Anthony Melton (15-points and hit five/seven three-pointers) and James Harden (29-points and had 13-assists). The duo combined for 44 of Philly’s 119-points and both players helped the team regain the lead in the fourth quarter. Harden in particular exploded in the early part of the fourth quarter as he hit two three-pointers that helped the Sixers tie and grab the lead. Once Philly grabbed the lead they did not look back and they did just enough on both sides of the ball to keep the Knicks at bay. Harden and Embiid’s chemistry continues to grow and has really shown itself in today’s contest and on Friday against the Clippers. If there pick and roll game continues to be as deadly as it’s been these last two games, opposing defenses do not stand a chance because if they try to trap or blitz it. Embiid or Harden will find the open man from the three-point line and that will add another dimension to this surging offensive attack.
Now the Sixers will prepare to face the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night and they will need to stay attached to their man if they hope to stop Bradley Beal and the rest of the Wizards shooters. Additionally, Philly will need to keep the ball moving to find the open man so they can continue to maximize their offensive possessions and find high percentage shots. If they want to get their 21st victory of the season and push their win streak to nine straight games.