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NEW YORK — If you were hoping for some Christmas entertainment, the Sixers and Knicks provided it Sunday afternoon.

In a back-and-forth, star-centric game, the Sixers reeled off eight straight wins, relying on their big names.

Joel Embiid scored 35 points in a 119-112 win. James Harden scored 29 points, 13 assists and 4 steals.

Julius Randle scored 35 points. Jaylen Brunson scored 23 points and made 11 assists.

Tyrese Maxey (fractured left leg) is out for the Sixers, although he made the trip to New York with the team. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said Friday that Maxey is “close” to returning.

The Sixers play Game 2 of their four-game road trip against the Wizards on Tuesday. Here are observations of their Christmas win.

Slow start for Embiid, Sixers defense

The Sixers fell behind early largely because they let the Knicks get comfortable on offense. Randle eased into a nice rhythm, scoring 25 points in the first half.

In a home loss to New York without Embiid and Harden on Nov. 4, the Sixers led mostly in the fourth quarter as New York committed 21 turnovers and struggled against a boring, aggressive defense. On Sunday, the Knicks had zero turnovers in the first quarter.

While Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t enjoy a ton of high-risk gambles, his team played smart, physical defense, and the Sixers didn’t respond well early on. After a timeout, the Sixers tried to find Embiid on a pick-and-roll with Shake Milton. Randle spun sharply to pick off the pass and set up a pass rush by Immanuel Quickley.

Mitchell Robinson has also done a good job on Embiid. Now, it’s rare to see an opponent double-team Embiid over and over again, but the Knicks trusted Robinson to hold their own. He stole the ball from Embiid in the post in one game, was exemplary in drop-close-and-roll coverage and played solid defense against last year’s MVP runner-up. After Embiid capped a sloppy Sixers possession with a top three, RJ Barrett answered from deep. The Sixers star then turned the ball over on the team’s next possession, Brunson got free and New York eventually took a 30-16 lead when Embiid went out.

Fouls drawn, a little luck helps the Sixers get back into the game

The Knicks are strong on the offensive glass, coming into the game third in offensive turnovers per glass cleanup, and they certainly looked like that in the first half against the Sixers, who were clearly slow to react on several plays.

In the first half, New York grabbed eight offensive boards (five by Robinson) and scored 19 second-chance points. The Sixers mustered just three second-chance points before halftime.

Despite that big deficit, the Sixers trailed by just three points at halftime, thanks in large part to the tenacity of their stars as they doggedly played foul. Embiid was third on Robinson with 4:04 left in the second and was especially determined to fight for post position and make contact against Jericho Sims. Even when the team is down, free throws from Harden and Embiid are so often a realistic way for the Sixers to get back into the game. The team also picked up some defensive stops with decent zone defense.

The second quarter ended in a game that was almost entirely about luck. As Brunson attempted a layup late in the half, Milton picked up the Sixers’ second forced turnover before dunking on the Knicks’ halfcourt marker. Somehow he invested it.

Harden is flipping the script

The Sixers have been frustrated by the officiating too many times.

DeAnthony Melton’s fumble was especially painful. The 24-year-old started 5-on-5 from the floor. Each of those attempts were also from long range, with the last one tying the game at 69-all. However, Melton was constantly whistled for untimely fouls. After his fourth start in the third quarter, he sat for nearly 13 minutes of game action.

Without Melton, the Sixers still managed to score a lot. Individual shots were fantastic on both sides for most of the afternoon. After making a tough turnaround jumper and a smooth jump hook, Embiid showed his patience and vision by waiting for the Knicks’ help defense to move in his direction and finding P. With Embiid watching from the bench late in the third and early in the fourth, Harden was suddenly unstoppable from distance. He scored 10 points in just 82 seconds on 3 field goal attempts (two three-pointers and a four-pointer). Harden then assisted Georges Niang three times to give the Sixers a 101-98 lead.

Harden continued to draw open looks for Niang, who remained rightfully unsure about taking them and finished with 16 points. A pair of triples by Niang pushed the Sixers’ lead to 108-100 and forced a Knicks timeout.

“It’s great,” Niang said earlier this month of playing alongside Harden. “When I go up, I put on a screen. My guy doubles James, he passes to me and I get some open shots. No, I’m excited to have James back. James is a great playmaker. We need him, especially when he plays at a high level.”

Nyang’s celebration was fun, but Harden makes life seem so simple for his teammates at times. Once again, the Sixers’ star power proved decisive and allowed them to overcome early game problems.


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