NBA Playoffs

Clobbered on glass by Knicks in Game 1, Sixers take stock of predictable problem 

The Sixers had 14 fewer offensive rebounds Saturday night.


The Knicks’ greatest strength Saturday night didn’t stun the Sixers.

However, to begin a series that looks like it might be rather even, New York established telling superiority in one area.

The Knicks clobbered the Sixers on the offensive boards. In a 111-104 Game 1 win at Madison Square Garden, their offensive rebounding advantage was 23-9. 

Joel Embiid’s bothersome left knee and overall health matter more than anything in this first-round playoff matchup. Still, the Sixers can’t let the Knicks play their game and dominate to that extent on the offensive glass moving forward. 

“I’ve got to look at it,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “Everybody will say, ‘Well, block out.’ But I think it’s probably a little more. I’ve just got to come up with a plan for them. … Obviously, we talked about it a lot. It’s a key thing that they do. We didn’t do a very good job of it tonight, right? Now I’ve got to go find out why and what all the problems were.

“I’m sure the list is long. I’m sure there’s a lot of things. It isn’t going to be just, ‘Hey, block out.’ Maybe it is; I may be wrong, but I think there’s probably more than that.”

The Knicks’ personnel and approach combine to create a constant offensive rebounding threat. Wings like Josh Hart crash frequently with force and hunger. Starting center Isaiah Hartenstein has strong rebounding instincts, including on his well-placed back-taps. Backup big man Mitchell Robinson is a springy 7-footer who recorded just two fewer offensive boards Saturday than the entire Sixers team.

The Knicks rebounded nearly a third of their own misses during the regular season, which was the NBA's top rate according to Cleaning the Glass.

The 6-foot-2 Jalen Brunson even got five offensive rebounds in Game 1. While there’s always a bit of luck involved in how boards bounce, the Sixers will want to curb their ball watching and seal their stops against the Knicks’ star guard.

As far as the Knicks’ crashing from the wings and corners, the Sixers will aim for earlier recognition and fewer free runs into the paint. 

It’s clearly imperative to finish plays with physicality, too. 

“We’ve got to muddy it up a little more,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “Get more physical, hit guys, block out. Everybody has to come in and crash. It’s a five-man job, not just a one-man or two-man job. Everybody has to come in there and just team rebound.”

The Knicks also had some especially favorable rebounding situations Saturday in transition and against the Sixers’ zone. 

The zone seems worthwhile as long as it’s working on Brunson and disrupting New York’s usual rhythm, but the Sixers will undoubtedly try to limit the Knicks’ transition game. When Hart slashes to the rim and the defense isn’t fully back, that’s a ripe spot for offensive rebounds.

In addition to Miles McBride and Bojan Bogdanovic’s shooting flurry, the Sixers allowed those kinds of high-energy, crowd-pleasing plays too often during a second quarter they lost by 21 points. 

Some of the margins weren’t small at all in Game 1. 

“It’s extremely physical out there. … At the end of the day, whatever five are on that floor have to go out there and compete their tails off,” Tyrese Maxey said. “Go out there and get defensive rebounds. Go out there and scrap, get loose balls.

“I think they got a lot of loose balls today that we have to come up with. It can’t be 50-50; it has to be 60-40, 70-30. It has to go our way for us to win games.” 

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