76ers Reveal Unique Way To Protect Joel Embiid On Defense

Joel Embiid, Nick Nurse, 76ers, NBA Playoffs
NBA Analysis Network

Game 1 against the New York Knicks in the 2024 NBA Playoffs did not go the way of the Philadelphia 76ers. They lost 111-104, but they remain confident and believe that this series is far from over.

Despite the disappointing outcome, there was a lot to like from the 76ers’ perspective. Atop that list is how well they contained Jalen Brunson, as Tyrese Maxey did a great job when switched onto him in a difficult matchup.

Maxey recorded several blocks from behind Brunson, fighting over screens and getting back into the play. He deserves a lot of praise for what was a very strong two-way performance in Game 1.

Where the 76ers lost the game was when the bench units got mixed in. The Knicks’ trio of Miles McBride, Bojan Bogdanovic and Mitchell Robinson dominated Nicolas Batum, Paul Reed and Buddy Hield. Batum has revealed that the team identified areas that need to be cleaned up and is confident they have figured things out.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Joel Embiid, Nick Nurse, Philadelphia 76ers Updates

It will be interesting to see where those adjustments come from. In an NBA Playoff series, coaches are always looking at how to improve on the margins as opponents eventually pick up on tendencies and play being run.

76ers head coach Nick Nurse had an interesting wrinkle in Game 1 to help compensate for Joel Embiid not being 100 percent healthy. Embiid is playing on a surgically repaired knee that he looked to aggravate in Game 1. He exited in the second quarter but was able to return after halftime.

With Embiid not operating at 100 percent, the 76ers cannot run their usual defensive schemes. So, Nurse has adjusted, with the one main principle; ignoring Josh Hart when he is spotting up around the perimeter.

In this thread shared by Rit Holtzman on X, you can see the unique ways Nurse went about protecting Embiid. Philadelphia wants him as close to the rim at all times, which has put a lot of pressure on his teammates to cover the perimeter and an emphasis on communication.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Joel Embiid, Nick Nurse, Philadelphia 76ers Updates

Embiid was no longer being sent to cover pick-and-rolls the Knicks ran with Brunson as the ball-handler and Isaiah Hartenstein setting the screen. Instead, the person who was defending Hart would run over in the switch.

It burned the 76ers on a few occasions if Kyle Lowry was slow to rotate, as Donte DiVincenzo would be open for a 3-pointer. But, there were times that Knicks’ offensive possessions stalled as the ball was thrown to Hart in the corner and there was nowhere to go.

This cat-and-mouse game between Nurse and Tom Thibodeau will be fascinating to watch. Hart was able to capitalize on the open jumpers in Game 1, knocking down 4-of-8 attempts. Will he be able to stay hot in Game 2 and the remainder of the NBA Playoffs?

That is likely something the 76ers are going to bet no on. They will continue daring him to shoot the ball instead of creating opportunities for DiVincenzo, OG Anunoby and Brunson to shoot from the perimeter.

Another wrinkle is going to have to be added, especially if Embiid’s mobility is limited after the injury scare in Game 1. Leaving an NBA player as open as the 76ers did with Hart isn’t a sustainable strategy if a guy gets hot. You have to expect Thibodeau and the Knicks to adjust as well and have a wrinkle of their own added.

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