Sixers’ tight loss to Knicks stings, but Nick Nurse and Joel Embiid’s pride in team is perfectly valid – NBC Sports Philadelphia

The lines about luck, fate and unknowable factors beyond the Sixers’ control weren’t particularly compelling a year ago.

This time around, the Sixers couldn’t reach Game 7 or advance past the first round, suffering a six-game loss to the Knicks. But the Sixers didn’t wilt like they did in humiliating season-ending losses in the last two playoff series against the Celtics and Heat, nor did they collapse and waste chance after chance to beat a decidedly less talented opponent like the 2021 Hawks.

In Nick Nurse’s first season as head coach, the Sixers played their part in a series filled with big games and lost it. The Knicks scored 650 total points and the Sixers 649.

“I just said I was proud of them because I thought they fought,” Nurse said Thursday night after Game 6. “That’s all I ever said. When we are on the field, we will fight regardless of the score, if the guys are out or injured. Whatever happens, we have to go out there and fight. And they certainly did that in this series and for the majority of the season.

Nurse always aims for basketball that requires a lot of effort and few mistakes. Overall, his players were exemplary against the Knicks in terms of effort.

Joel Embiid averaged 33 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.5 blocks while dealing with his latest miserable mix of health issues in the postseason, including Bell’s palsy. With the Sixers’ season teetering over a cliff, Tyrese Maxey brought it back to solid ground with his ultra-clutch 46-point Game 5.

Cameron Payne went from Nurse’s rotation to draining jumpers and delighting the home crowd in Game 3. Buddy Hield did the same in Game 6. Nicolas Batum and Kyle Lowry lived up to their reputations as calm and quick veterans.

“We’ve gotten better,” Lowry told reporters. “I think the guys in that locker room competed at a high level. The things Joel showed us in this series while playing on one leg; Tyrese’s growth; (Kelly Oubre Jr.) tenacity. I think the team just showed their competitive nature. It was fun. After 18 years you’d think it gets easier, but it sucks even more when you lose, especially with a great group of guys like that. It was fun to be a part of.

After his solid Game 5, Tobias Harris… did not go out on a good note. He was deep on the perimeter in Game 6, posting zero points on 0-for-2 shooting, four rebounds and three assists.

Still, generally speaking, Nurse’s team wasn’t out of trouble.

“One thing I will say is everyone in this locker room tried,” Embiid said. “We played hard. I know it wasn’t enough, but I can tell you that everyone in that locker room cared.

“We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, but it wasn’t because we wanted to. We did our best. Sometimes we could have tried harder, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. But everyone in that locker room cared and everyone in that locker room wanted to win. And we tried. We played very hard and surpassed ourselves. I’m just proud of them.

Nurse will want more accuracy and fewer sloppy plays in his second season. For example, after Embiid’s layup cut New York’s lead Thursday to 114-113 with 20.8 seconds left, the Sixers failed to intentionally foul the Knicks for nearly of 10 seconds. And it was Embiid who did it, starting his sixth personal game and watching the final moments from the bench.

“I thought we started to make some progress,” Nurse said. “Look… you know some of the ups and downs. There was a time when we had a whole bunch of guys out there. All anyone talked about was Joel being out, but we had a whole fleet of guys out. And the challenge was, “Can we get them to a competitive level?” Can we go out there and compete? We had to raise our level of competition.

“But the special situations, the endgame stuff, the ATO stuff, it probably wasn’t as accurate as I would have liked to have it, right? I think they definitely got it (well) done even in a lot of those plays, we ended up executing a lot of them. We made a lot of good shots… late in the game, so they made a lot of them off the board and they did a good job. .

As for the future, nothing seems very certain other than that Maxey and Embiid are a brilliant duo that can (and should) improve.

“He has a chance to do something special again next year,” Embiid said at the postgame podium, referring to the more improved 23-year-old to his left. “I hope he makes All-NBA this year, but I think he can be in things like MVP conversations. I think he can take the next step.

And regardless of the faces surrounding Embiid and Maxey on the 2024-25 Sixers, we know the gist of what Nurse will be pushing for.

“I still think playing hard goes a long way in this league,” he said, “so we’ll keep going.”

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