Knicks and 76ers got past injuries that could've ruined them. Now they meet in playoffs

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Jalen Brunson and his New York teammates refused to let injuries knock them down. Joel Embiid of Philadelphia wouldn't let his keep him down.

It was just days apart in January when the Knicks and 76ers were rocked by what could have been season-swinging blows. The Knicks were rolling through teams during one of the best months in franchise history when starting forwards Julius Randle and OG Anunoby went out of the lineup on the same day. Both needed surgery, with the All-Star Randle unable to return.

Embiid then went down with a knee injury and soon his own surgery, sending the 76ers tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings without knowing when the reigning NBA MVP would be back.

Yet not only did both teams recover, they are surging into a first-round series that begins Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I just think that for us to be able to bounce back and do things when people think you couldn’t, that’s the nature of our team,” Brunson said of the No. 2-seeded Knicks. “A lot of people had doubted us in the past but we always find a way to prevail.”

The Knicks won their final five games to finish 50-32, moving past Milwaukee on the final day of the regular season for their best finish since winning 54 games and earning the No. 2 seed in 2012-13. They learned their opponent three nights later, when the 76ers rallied to beat Miami 105-104 in a play-in game to earn the No. 7 seed.

Embiid didn't dominate like he can when healthy, but he finished strong and showed why the 76ers are more dangerous than the usual lower seed as long as he's on the floor. They won their final eight games of the regular season, five with Embiid in the lineup after he returned April 2 to finish 47-35.

The 7-footer played in just one of the 76ers' three losses to the Knicks in the regular season, but wasn't available when New York won by 14 in February and 27 on March 12. The Knicks won by 36 in Philadelphia on Jan. 5 in the one game Embiid did play,

That was right after the Knicks added Anunoby following a trade with Toronto, kicking off a 14-2 finish in January.

“They play hard and physical, they’re tough, and that’s their identity,” 76ers All-Star Tyrese Maxey said. “So for us to go in there and try to get Ws and try to win this series, we have to match that. And not just match, but we have to overcome that and be better than that, and be extremely physical as well. I think we know what we have to do. And they kicked our tail in the regular season, so it’s time to go in there and fight.”


The Atlantic Division rivals haven't met in the postseason since 1989, when the Knicks swept the 76ers in what was then a best-of-five first round. Then again, there haven't been many opportunities, unless they came early. The 76ers haven't been past the second round since reaching the NBA Finals in 2001. The Knicks were last in the conference finals a year earlier.

But the current players know what to expect when the series starts at Madison Square Garden, just a short train ride from Philadelphia.

“The lights are super bright, they’re going to give those celebrities $100,000 free tickets just to be there and not care about the game, but that’s what they do and it’s going to be super fun and I look forward to it,” Philadelphia's Kelly Oubre Jr. said.


Brunson and Maxey were both first-time All-Stars this season and both point guards had plenty of big nights during the regular season. Maxey scored at least 50 points three times. Brunson had 11 40-point performances, tying Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing for second-most by a Knicks player in a single season, and was fourth in the league with 28.7 points per game.


Brunson and fellow Knicks Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo were NCAA championship-winning teammates at Villanova, so will be playing in a familiar environment for the games in Philadelphia.

“Philly, that’s always home,” Hart said. “For me and I know JB and Te feel the same way.”

The 76ers added their own former Wildcat, Philadelphia product Kyle Lowry, during the regular season.


AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.



Brian Mahoney, The Associated Press