3 observations after Sixers’ season ends with wild Game 6 loss to Knicks

The clock struck midnight on the Sixers’ season Thursday at Wells Fargo Center.

In an absolutely wild, late-night, back-and-forth game, the Sixers fell to a 118-115 Game 6 loss to the Knicks.

Buddy Hield (20 points) was not close on a long, desperate game-tying attempt in the final seconds.

Joel Embiid posted 39 points and 13 rebounds. Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 41 points and 12 assists. 

For the Sixers, Embiid is under contract and Tyrese Maxey is eligible for a five-year max contract. Beyond that, the team is essentially a blank slate this summer.

Here are observations on the Sixers’ Game 6 defeat:

Sixers’ start a nightmare 


Brunson kicked off the scoring with a fadeaway jumper late in the shot clock over Tobias Harris. 

Donte DiVincenzo drained a second-chance three-pointer, Isaiah Hartenstein hit a push shot, and the Knicks started very hot. They opened 6 for 8 from the field and went up 17-4 after Maxey fouled Brunson on a long-range jumper and New York’s star guard made all three of his foul shots.

Brunson was characteristically composed and savvy to begin the game. He clearly was not discouraged at all by the sour, stunning finish for the Knicks on Tuesday night in their Game 5 overtime loss.

Embiid got the Sixers on the board with a face-up jumper over Hartenstein. He committed a bad early turnover when he threw a skip pass into the third row, but Embiid was otherwise on his game offensively. He scored the Sixers’ first nine points, made his first three field goals, and drew Hartenstein’s second foul at the 6:22 mark of the first quarter. 

Maxey’s Game 5 magic wasn’t present at the start of Game 6. He shot 1 for 5 from the floor in the first quarter and turned the ball over on a poorly executed pick-and-pop with Embiid. The 23-year-old tried to immediately answer a DiVincenzo three, but his jumper was wide left. The Knicks’ lead ballooned to 28-9 on a driving OG Anunoby layup and Sixers head coach Nick Nurse burned his second timeout of the first period.

The Knicks played a stellar first quarter, but the Sixers were decisively inferior in terms of hustle and focus. New York grabbed nine offensive boards in the first period and had just one turnover. The Sixers’ deficit grew as large as 22 points. 

Hield as ready as it gets  

Hield sure followed through with Nurse’s request to stay ready.

After playing in 84 regular-season games, Hield struggled in his first career playoff action. He shot 1 for 7 from the field over Games 1 through 3 and his lone basket was a layup. The 31-year-old sharpshooter was out of Nurse’s rotation for Games 4 and 5.

Hield’s all about spending hours on the court, putting up shots and preparing behind the scenes, which evidently made him well-suited to step up in Game 6. Still, an elimination game is very different than a long workout with assistant coach Rico Hines and Sixers player development staffers. With Nurse searching for shooting or anything that would change the complexion of the game, Hield showed some initial rust. He fumbled a pass early in the second quarter and then failed to generate a look as the shot clock expired, turning the ball over. 

However, Hield sunk his first shot, drilling a top-of-the-key jumper. He then did it again, swishing a catch-and-shoot three off an Embiid kick-out dish. 

Hield was off and running from there. He canned a trio of threes late in the second, hear “Bud-dy, Bud-dy!” chants at the foul line, and played a giant role in the Sixers wiping out their deficit. The Knicks looked as rattled as they had all series. Anunoby even missed an uncontested dunk. 

Unlike Nurse, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau maintained a seven-man rotation. Hield poured in 17 first-half points, Nicolas Batum added 10, and the Sixers held a 30-0 bench scoring advantage at intermission.

Brunson, Knicks a shade better amid the chaos  

The Sixers benefited from the Knicks inevitably cooling off, but they also raised their defensive intensity after the first quarter. 

They weren’t flawless at all, but the Sixers scrambled around, closed out hard, and played with obvious desperation as they dug out of their early hole.

Embiid made two threes in the first minute of the second half. The scrappy Knicks predictably responded well, though. Josh Hart’s and-one layup trimmed the Sixers’ lead to 62-61.

Momentum shifted back and forth throughout the third quarter. Kelly Oubre Jr. nabbed a steal on an after-timeout play and grinned as he cruised in for a slam. Maxey got a steal of his own on the Knicks’ next possession, then exceeded his first-half scoring total by nailing a pull-up three. 

In addition to Maxey’s decreased offensive output, the Sixers received zero points from both Harris and Kyle Lowry in the game. Harris’ final outing of a five-year, $180 million contract was a scoreless one on 0-for-2 shooting.

The Sixers needed a big Embiid scoring performance and he delivered it, providing several important buckets in the third quarter whenever the Knicks generated a few consecutive stops. 

Batum and Cameron Payne knocked down threes late in the third quarter, but the Knicks were relentless. The Sixers were infuriated that Maxey got no call on a driving layup try. Seconds later, Anunoby buried a three to knot the contest at 83 apiece.

Nurse didn’t attempt to play Embiid the entire second half as he had in Game 4. Instead, Paul Reed entered to begin the fourth quarter and Hield joined him. Both players grabbed offensive boards on a single possession, enabling Oubre to sink a three, but the Knicks kept on scoring and held a 92-88 edge when Embiid returned.

Yet another Hield three cut that deficit to one point and the Sixers briefly regained the lead when 35-year-old Batum (16 points, seven rebounds) leaped high for a put-back dunk.

Brunson then came through with a superstar’s stretch. He drilled back-to-back threes to give his team a 101-95 lead. Maxey responded with a steal and an and-one layup, but the Sixers ultimately found themselves requiring one more improbable comeback.

Brunson did impressive work both pushing the ball when the Knicks had transition chances and making excellent decisions in the final seconds of the shot clock. His mid-range jumper with 3:26 left put the Knicks ahead by eight points.

The Sixers were still far from finished. They blitzed Brunson, summoned some gutsy stops, and stormed back within a point on a put-back Oubre slam. A goaltended, and-one Maxey layup evened the game at 111-all.

The Sixers successfully forced the ball out of Brunson’s hands on the ensuing play, but Hart decided to fire a three and buried it with 24.4 seconds to go.

Embiid then laid the ball in quickly on the Sixers’ next possession. However, the Sixers couldn’t create a turnover and Embiid fouled Donte DiVincenzo with 11.1 seconds left.

Crucially, that was Embiid’s sixth personal, meaning his night was over. DiVincenzo and Brunson made their clutch free throws and the Sixers faced the cruel reality of a seventh consecutive playoff appearance that didn’t last beyond the second round.

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