Sunday’s NBA playoffs scores, takeaways: Jalen Brunson, Knicks extend series lead vs. 76ers

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By Fred Katz, Mike Vorkunov and David Aldridge

Jalen Brunson propelled the New York Knicks to a 97-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday to extend their series lead to 3-1.

Brunson’s 47 points in the game set a new Knicks franchise playoff record. He also added 10 assists and four rebounds in the high-intensity affair.

Here are today’s playoff takeaways so far.

Knicks 97, 76ers 92.

Series: New York leads 3-1

Game 5: 7 p.m. ET Tuesday in New York

Knicks’ defense makes the difference

The Knicks have been one of the NBA’s best defensive teams since they acquired OG Anunoby just before the New Year. And yet, they never even hit their peak until Sunday — especially during the fourth quarter, when a lineup with a couple of reserves shut down the Sixers.

After Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson spent most of the first three games manning the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, the Knicks rejiggered their matchups. Robinson was hurt. Hartenstein picked up five fouls just in the third quarter. Precious Achiuwa, their third-string center, had guarded Embiid before — and had found success doing it. Instead, they went another route.

Achiuwa defended a wing, usually Kelly Oubre Jr. Anunoby, New York’s most versatile defensive weapon, stuck to Embiid. The Sixers could not find the best way to combat it. Knicks defenders flew around in rotation, closing out on a bevy of Philadelphia shooters. On one play, as the shot clock wound down and with New York in rotation, one that should have led to an open 3, Josh Hart deterred Kyle Lowry from rising for a jumper; then, as Lowry swung it to Embiid, Achiuwa flew over him to swat the 3-point attempt into the stands.

Embiid did not sink a field goal in the final period. He made one free throw. Philadelphia scored only 16 points over the final 12 minutes.

For all the deserved talk of Brunson’s remarkable performance, New York won this game in the most in-character way it could: With try-hard, physical defense that was enough to suffocate the other team. — Fred Katz, Knicks staff writer

 Rebounding woes continue for Sixers

The 76ers have had the best player in this series. They have received great performances from Tyrese Maxey, their other All-Star. And yet, they find themselves down 3-1 in this series and on the precipice of another early elimination. The culprit in Game 4, as it has been all series, was their deficiencies on the boards. They just can’t rebound with the Knicks and it has been killing them.

New York once again got second chance after second chance, which not only gave them another shot to score but shortened the game by keeping the ball away from the 76ers. They had 15 offensive rebounds, nearly twice as many as the 76ers (nine). While the 76ers had the biggest guy on the court, the Knicks kept throwing bodies at the boards and coming away with pivotal second opportunities. It has put the 76ers in a bind. Nick Nurse went zone at time during the second half of the fourth quarter and the 76ers struggled to rebound during that time, just as they did in Game 1 when Nurse went zone for long stretches at times. The Knicks had seven offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone. — Mike Vorkunov, NBA staff writer

The 76ers were bludgeoned — bludgeoned — again on the glass by the Knicks, and when they look back on their season, which is now close to over after the Knicks’ victory, they’re going to wonder how it happened, again, in a got-to-have Game 4 at home. Philly couldn’t have been set up better going into the fourth quarter, with the Knicks reduced to playing Achiuwa and Anunoby having to guard Embiid after Embiid drew most of the five third-quarter fouls on Hartenstein, forcing him to the bench for almost the entire fourth period.

But the Knicks dominated the fourth quarter anyway, by being as relentless on the offensive glass as you can be. They grabbed a half-dozen offensive rebounds in the fourth, creating multiple second- and third-shot opportunities. That led to a 21-8 Knicks edge in second-chance points, along with a 44-32 edge in points in the paint. Anunoby and Achiuwa — and, of course, Josh Hart — beat bigger Sixers to the ball time and time again. Meanwhile, Anunoby and Achiuwa hounded Embiid, who had 26 points through three quarters, into fourth-quarter irrelevance. He couldn’t get the ball cleanly on the block, and when he did, the Knicks’ double teams made it impossible for him to get off good looks. He scored but a single free throw in the final quarter.

And, once again, Buddy Hield, the 76ers’ big trade deadline acquisition, was a DNP-CD by Nick Nurse.

So, as Philly faces elimination in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, the Sixers have to look themselves in the mirror. They got smashed, at home, by the smaller, and seemingly tougher, Knicks. — David Aldridge, NBA senior columnist

Sunday’s schedule:

Monday’s schedule:

  • Celtics at Heat: 7:30 p.m. ET, TNT (Boston leads 2-1)
  • Thunder at Pelicans: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV (Oklahoma City leads 3-0)
  • Lakers at Nuggets: 10 p.m. ET, TNT (Denver leads 3-1)

Required reading

(Photo: Bill Streicher / USA Today)

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