The Sixers (0-1) and New York Knicks (1-0) took the floor at Madison Square Garden in Game 2 of their first round series on Monday.

Philadelphia desperately wanted to tie the series at one game apiece. New York wanted to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Just when it looked as though the Sixers would wrap up a victory in Game 2, ignored timeout calls, missed fouls, and an untimely offensive rebound by the Knicks put Philadelphia into a two-games-to-zero hole, 104-101.

Before we get to the game, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers were without the services of De'Anthony Melton, who is still recovering from a back injury. Robert Covington remained out with a bone bruise in his left knee.

Nick Nurse started Kyle Lowry, Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

The Knicks were without the services of Julius Randle, who is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.

Tom Thibodeau started Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, OG Anunoby, Josh Hart, and Isaiah Hartenstein.

Inside the game

- You could tell Embiid was battling with himself from the jump. On defense, he walked a line when guarding in space. Embiid was careful not to force his knee into any awkward steps, but cognizant of his responsibility to step up when the ball defender couldn't clear a screen. Embiid was much more comfortable by the rim early in the game, eager to greet drivers at the basket and scare them into motoring right on through to the other side of the lane or challenge them to finish high-difficulty shots inside.

On offense, he consistently set up a couple feet away from a true seal-off in the low post. If he wasn't afraid of taking contact to the knee or landing awkwardly on activity inside, he certainly didn't prove so with his play on offense.

Embiid relied heavily on his jumper in the first half, often calling his own number for trailing threes above the break. Even when the ball went to him around the foul line, Embiid's instinct was to milk the clock until he had his feet under him for a midrange jumper. The touch was not what anyone on Philadelphia's side would've hoped for, even if the big guy did get a few to fall.

Embiid tested his mobility here and there in the first half, attacking his counterpart in space before swarms of Knicks stung him into missed shots inside, creating battles for rebounds. To Embiid's credit, he didn't let the possession die there. He used his size to at least try to poke the ball around in hopes that he or a teammate could grab it, either securing the second chance or ultimately losing the battle on the glass because he was outnumbered at the rim.

Whatever happens in this series, whatever happens with Embiid's knee, I do think there are signs that he is grasping the importance of being a more all-around player in the playoffs. He continued to prey on shaders, drawing the helper close and kicking out to the open teammate. Embiid also paid attention to where off-ball defenders were looking as his teammates moved around the floor, the big fella threading the needle to Maxey for a gorgeous layup along the baseline because his man either wasn't in position to guard it or wasn't tracking the move well enough.

- The Sixers may not come away from these playoffs with any trophies. But, they'll go into the summer with an important data point as they build out their roster with Harris' money ostensibly off the books. Maxey is a legitimate co-star in the most taxing of environments.

It wouldn't have surprised anyone if the Sixers came out tight, knowing the pressure they were under down 1-0 in the series. The situation didn't phase Maxey in the slightest. He came out guns blazing, curling around a staggered screen to lace a three on the left wing that opened the scoring for both teams. A short while later, he stepped into a transition feed and knocked one down from the right wing. Philadelphia jumped out to a 9-0 lead on Maxey's third three of the first quarter, a corner make fading out of bounds.

I sometimes fall into this thinking trap in which I feel like Maxey takes too many threes. It's because he's so fast that I believe he can blow by anyone you put in front of him. But, he found a great balance between getting downhill for layups and floaters, too. The hot start didn't ignite a barrage of long-range sniping at the expense of the rest of his repertoire. The perimeter game got things going for Philadelphia; Maxey filled it up with downhill play for the middle portion of the game; and then he stuck jumpers in the Knicks' eyes to suddenly give Philadelphia a lead late in the fourth quarter when they appeared to be on death's door step.

New York took notice of the damage Maxey was inflicting, electing to contain him with ball pressure near the sideline. It is in those moments that I would like to see him string out the added pressure to make Embiid's life easier. There was a moment in Game 2 in which the two-man game yielded Embiid a very simple look at the rim, all Maxey had to do was deliver the pocket pass. A layup was one pass away because of all the attention Maxey received.

He stretched the Knicks' defense with the pick-your-poison threats of his shot and his speed. It got his running mate touches closer to the basket. Leveraging Maxey's gravity will be critical going forward; not just for the sake of bending defenses to his will, but for the sake of making the game easier on his ailing star teammate.

- Embiid and Maxey certainly did the heavy lifting in this one. But, Harris and Lowry had their moments, as well. Lowry made a couple of plays when his teammates' shots went up, stealing the rebound from unsuspecting Knicks and keeping the possession alive for Philadelphia. He also got on the floor for loose balls, inserting his hand into scrums to try and jar the ball away from the Knicks involved.

As much as Harris has earned the criticism he's received this season, I thought his defense was mostly excellent. He stripped DiVincenzo on a drive; slapped down to knock the ball off Hart's knee on a drive and reached around for a tip-away to blow up a would-be Hart drive later; and beat a Knick to a rebound, creating a second-chance opportunity for the Sixers that resulted in a Buddy Hield layup.

Spare thoughts

- Hield played some really good on-ball defense against Brunson, but he looked absolutely lost on offense again. With each passing day, I wonder if the three second-round picks they gave up to get him will eventually have a higher replacement level than Hield does right now. Obviously, those picks don't help the Sixers win games in April of 2024. Then again, neither is Hield, really. If the bet was that he would be dependable in the most important games, man, does that look like a bad wager. Nurse is barely letting him on the court right now.

- There's mixed information about whether the Sixers and/or the Pistons were willing to strike or close to striking a deal involving Harris and Bojan Bogdanovic ahead of February's trade deadline. I guess Harris' on-ball defense makes it somewhat of a conversation as you forecast your playoff needs. But, it's difficult to not think about whether that was on the table as Bogdanovic sank timely threes in the second half.

The Sixers (0-2) will host the New York Knicks (2-0) in a must-win Game 3 on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on TNT/truTV.

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