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Knicks can’t allow a break against Philly in Game 2

This is not the time to exhale.

It doesn’t matter that the Knicks are 1-0 in the postseason. It doesn’t matter that they found a way to beat Philadelphia in Game 1 despite the fact that Jalen Brunson and OG Anunoby, their two biggest stars, had subpar games. Never mind that Joel Embiid is once again listed as questionable for Game 2 and moved around the floor late in Saturday’s game like a weight was strapped to his left leg.

The Knicks should enter Madison Square Garden at full speed on Monday. They must seize this opportunity because whichever team wins this game will undoubtedly be the favorite to reach the next round and earn a date with the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Oh dear, I know we’re way ahead of ourselves. It’s hard not to, given the way this Knicks team played the latter part of the season while chasing a high seed. Some thought the Knicks were crazy to go after the No. 2 seed and end up with a tough first-round matchup. But the way the Knicks played in Game 1, coming from behind to take control of the game, was enough to send a message to the rest of the league that they are much more than a team with one star.

About that one star: Brunson had one of his worst games in recent memory, turning the ball over five times and missing 18 of his 26 shots. The Knicks were minus-3 with Brunson on the floor. How rare is that? Only once in the regular season – against Memphis in February – did the Knicks win a game in which Brunson’s plus-minus rating was negative.

“Games where your best player doesn’t score the ball well or struggles to score a little bit and everyone else picks it up and we can win, that’s huge,” said Josh Hart, who scored 13 of his 22 points. in the fourth quarter, including three three-pointers. “Knowing JB, he will continue to do his job and remain aggressive, and that is what we need.

“He’s not going to shoot that bad for the series. A match like that was certainly encouraging for all of us.”

Brunson was not alone in his struggle. Anunoby had his worst games as a Knick. In Anunoby’s 23 regular season games with the team, he was plus-15.3 and the team was 20-3. On Sunday against Philadelphia, Anunoby was minus-5, marking the first time the Knicks scored fewer points than their opponent when he was on the floor.

Philadelphia coach Nick Nurse coached Anunoby for five seasons when they were both in Toronto, so he may have been able to share a few insights with his players about Anunoby’s defensive style.

Perhaps the biggest thing the Knicks can’t do is count on Embiid to be limited, despite the fact that he clearly struggled on Sunday after it emerged he hurt his knee in the second quarter. After turning and pinning his knee to the ground, he left for the locker room with 2:37 left in the quarter.

Embiid returned for the second half, but looked nothing like the player who led all scorers with 18 points in the first half. Over the final two quarters, he went just 2-for-11, though he sank all six of his free throws.

Embiid’s health remains a bit of a mystery. He did not speak to reporters after the Game 1 loss and was not made available after the team’s voluntary shooting practice on Sunday. The nurse said only that Embiid was feeling “pretty good.”

No matter who is available, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said the Knicks need to come in with the mentality they need to continue improving.

“And I think the biggest thing is to realize that we have to be better in the next game, and that’s kind of the nature of the playoffs,” Thibodeau said. “You play against the same team over and over again. So we have to be at our best.”