3 adjustments Knicks should make vs. 76ers in Game 2 of 2024 NBA playoffs

The Knicks pulled away with a 111-104 Game 1 victory over the 76ers at home on Saturday, but it was hardly their best performance. Jalen Brunson scored 22 points on 8-for-26 shooting from the field, both Philly stars went off, and a couple of Josh Hart threes decided the game.

Going into Game 2, head coach Tom Thibodeau can expect some adjustments out of opposing coach Nick Nurse, and will come prepared with his own.

Here are three potential changes he can make to the Knicks’ game plan in Game 2…

Move OG Anunoby off Tyrese Maxey

Thibs opened up Game 1 with a somewhat surprising defensive scheme, having Anunoby guard Maxey right out of the gate. This was thought to be a situational look he’d go to as the series developed, not the opening salvo.

The idea was to have New York’s best perimeter defender on Philly’s elite perimeter threat, and to be able to easily switch his pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid. The results were mixed as Maxey had a big night with numerous clean drives, and roasted the Knicks bigs on switches.

Going into Game 2, Thibs may consider moving Anunoby onto a less threatening wing like Tobias Harris or Kelly Oubre Jr. In this case, instead of chasing around one singular threat he’s unlikely to stop given the speed differential, Anunoby would be a roamer mucking up plays all over the court.

That is arguably where most of his defensive value will come in this series, and was the alignment when the Knicks won two of their three regular season games against the Sixers. They can throw Hart and Donte DiVincenzo on Maxey, and save some of Anunoby’s energy navigating screens to be used offensively.

There’s also a way to actually improve the team’s defense on Maxey while moving Anunoby off him. That’s putting Miles McBride on him. However, the Knicks will need to…

Start Deuce over Hart

A starting lineup shift after a Game 1 win may seem crazy, but this move accomplishes a couple of things that could make the next wins come easier. First, it grants the Knicks a legitimate option to track Maxey, unlocking Anunoby’s help elsewhere.

Second, it improves the team’s spacing dramatically, as Hart was all but ignored in Game 1. Hart’s questionable three-point shooting is a constant pain point come the postseason, and while he made Philly pay with some big makes in the fourth quarter, relying on that to win you a series could be treacherous.

McBride was on fire from three in Game 1, and his defender won’t be leaving him alone in the corner to show on Brunson with the freedom they did on Hart. Hart can still play big minutes, and the Knicks will have counters to make sure he’s not burdening the offense too much, but this may be a more natural alignment going forward.

Getting Brunson going

The Knicks won’t go anywhere with Brunson playing at a Game 1 level. He needs to be better, but also fell victim to Philly’s game plan, which New York will need to come with counters for.

First, the off-ball Brunson we saw from late in the regular season needs to be more prominent. His movement off screens and cutting back door got him his best looks Saturday, and will likely do the same in Game 2, so expect the Knicks to look for those plays more.

His regular on-ball stuff faltered with all the extra defensive attention and awkward positioning. Philly hedged all his picks and brought multiple defenders to the in-between range where he loves operating.

The Knicks counteract this similarly to how they did early in the series against Cleveland last season, by having Brunson straight-up isolate more and using Hart in the screen actions so his man isn’t coming over as extra help. If there’s no screen, Brunson can actually work somewhat one-on-one. And if Hart is posted in the corner or on the wing, his defender is immediately shading towards Brunson if he’s not the pick man.

Brunson also missed some opportunities himself, like not aggressively attacking the rim on Maxey or an injured Embiid, and not seeing some lob opportunities with his centers against Embiid’s pick-and-roll coverage — especially Mitchell Robinson. He’s sure to study up on the Game 1 mistakes and improve on them going forward.

The playoffs and the adjustments made during them reveal all about a team, down to their last weakness that can be exploited. Luckily for the Knicks, they’re boasting a deep team with lots of options, so they should have all the answers as their series progresses.

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