Home News Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey top Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau’s first-round scouting report

Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey top Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau’s first-round scouting report

The Knicks, who entered the playoffs with a 50-32 record, did their work early and secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on the final day of the regular season.

The Philadelphia 76ers’ path to the playoffs was far more difficult in comparison. They had to survive a brutal 29-game stretch without Joel Embiid, then defeat the Miami Heat in Wednesday’s Play-In Tournament matchup just to set up Game 1 of their first-round series against New York on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks, led by Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and OG Anunoby, have been firing on all cylinders for a while now despite an injured Julius Randle. That gave them the advantage of momentum entering the series. But Embiid is the ultimate equalizer.

Despite missing two months because of a knee injury, the center averaged 30.4 points while shooting 49.5% from the field and 48.1% from deep over his final five regular-season appearances. And while he scored just 23 points on 6-of-17 shooting on Wednesday against Miami, 11 of those points came in the fourth quarter when Philadelphia made its final push.

It probably goes without saying, but if the Knicks want to advance to the second round, slowing down Embiid — especially from behind the arc — will be key. He was listed as questionable entering Game 1 but ultimately started.

However, just slowing down Embiid will not get the Knicks out of the woods. They also have Tyrese Maxey, who averaged a career-best 25.9 points per game across 70 regular-season appearances, to worry about.

“So, you have a dominant big that poses different problems because he can shoot the ball, put it on the floor, play back to the basket,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And then you add in Maxey and the way he’s come along. He’s a guy that can break a defense down off the dribble. So those two guys together, I think the things that they’ve been through, their experience has helped them. I think they’re further down the line now. So that’s the challenge for us. You get into the playoffs; you can’t get here without being a good team. And then you have to play for 48 minutes.”

Thibodeau said limiting Maxey will require the same amount of effort it would take to slow down Embiid, although they attack defenses in different ways. Between Maxey’s speed and Embiid’s low-post dominance, the Knicks will have their hands full in this series.

“So, you combine those two things, it’s a lot,” Thibodeau said. ” We’re going to have to guard [Maxey] with our team, as we would with Joel. And then we got to make sure we close out on their shooters. They surrounded him with a lot of good players. I think the [Kyle] Lowry pick up has been a good pick up for them. [Kelly] Oubre [Jr.] has been playing extremely well. [Tobias] Harris is a gifted scorer. Buddy Hield is another good pick up. So, we got to make sure we’re ready.”


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