Niang uncorked 12 of his 16 points off the bench in the fourth quarter, where the 76ers took the lead for the first time and never looked back. He was perplexed why the Knicks kept him wide open, leading to his four three-pointers that enabled Philadelphia to pull away.
“I don’t know why there were playing in a drop coverage. I probably haven’t seen that since college maybe. But they put two on James (Harden), and that’s kind of where me and James have that two-man game that really flourishes. James did an incredible job of hitting me, and making those passes and my job is to shoot the ball and I won’t stop doing that.”Georges Niang postgame via NBA.com
Three of Niang’s four three-pointers in the fourth quarter were directly assisted by Harden, while the other one, a give-and-go with D’Anthony Melton, was manufactured off Harden beating a Knicks’ double team to touch off the play.
But from New York coach Tom Thibodeau’s vantage point, it wasn’t just a simple drop coverage.
“Actually, we weren’t really trapping [Harden], and we trapped at the end of the game, but we were in two different coverages with [Harden], and he did a good job of making plays. Then we went to a switch, and so he’s gonna make [reads]. He’s been reading the game. He had 21 assists in the last game.
So we knew Niang got going and but a lot of that is the attention that you’re putting on [Harden] and then they got you spread out pretty good.”Tom Thibodeau postgame via Knicks digital
Thibodeau thought their ball pressure could have been better. But it’s hard to blame the Knicks for playing the numbers, gambling on Niang to beat them than letting Harden, one of the best isolation players in the game, have his way on one-on-one coverage.
Niang made the Knicks pay.
This loss is another example of why having an elite talent who can bend defenses can win you games in different forms. And the 76ers have two of them, Harden and Joel Embiid.
Julius Randle (25 points and 8 rebounds) and Jalen Brunson (23 points and 11 assists) tried their best to offset the Harden-Embiid duo, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Knicks over the hump on Christmas Day.
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