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OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa rise to occasion against Joel Embiid in Knicks’ Game 4 win at 76ers

Written by on April 29, 2024

PHILADELPHIA — The Knicks were up three with about three minutes to go on Sunday. They trapped Tyrese Maxey on a pick-and-roll, leaving Kyle Lowry wide open behind the arc.

OG Anunoby was the closest defender to Lowry. He left Joel Embiid and sprinted toward Lowry. Watching from a few feet away, Precious Achiuwa knew exactly where to go.

“I’m reading OG to see if he was going to rotate to Kyle,” Achiuwa said. “Kyle jumped in the air to shoot the ball, and I was just reading the ball. He passed it to Embiid, so it was just an automatic read-and-react type of play really.”

Achiuwa blocked Embiid’s 3-point attempt, sending the sizeable contingent of Knicks fans at Wells Fargo Center through the roof.

That sequence was one of several huge defensive plays made by either Achiuwa or Anunoby late in Game 4.

Whether it was individual defense on Embiid (0-for-4 in the fourth quarter), pick-and-roll defense or executing a rotation, Achiuwa and Anunoby seemed to be everywhere for New York in the closing minutes of Game 4.

Apr 28, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) controls the ball against the New York Knicks during the first half of game four of the first round in the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Achiuwa defended a Maxey step-back and blocked Embiid’s layup attempt with 23 seconds to go and New York up four.

Anunoby made life difficult for Embiid for a large stretch of the second half.

The seeds of what you saw from Anunoby and Achiuwa on Sunday were laid three years ago, about 500 miles from the Wells Fargo center.

Anunoby and Achiuwa shared the floor for roughly 600 minutes in 2021-22 — their first year as Raptors teammates. They spent 2.5 seasons together in Toronto, learning each other’s tendencies, developing elusive timing and chemistry on the defensive end.

“I don’t know how to (explain it),” Achiuwa said. “It’s a feel thing between me and OG. When we’re involved in a defensive action, I understand what he wants to do, we read off each other and play off each other that way. … That’s kind of what played into it today.”

Achiuwa, Anunoby and the Knicks held the Sixers to shoot 35 percent. Philadelphia missed 18 of its 24 shots in the fourth quarter.

Apr 28, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives for a shot against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) during the first half of game four of the first round in the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsApr 28, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives for a shot against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) during the first half of game four of the first round in the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 28, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives for a shot against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) during the first half of game four of the first round in the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports / © Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t think you can give them enough credit, honestly,” said Josh Hartwho had a great defensive game himself, of Anunoby and Achiuwa.

Anunoby may have defended Sixers at all five positions on Sunday. With Mitchell Robinson (ankle) out and Isaiah Hartenstein in foul trouble, Anunoby asked to defend Embiid.

And he delivered. The 6-foot-8 wing fronted Embiid at times. He guarded Embiid when the center stepped out. He bothered him on the catch.

All three scenarios require different coverages.

“And you need everyone reading the ball correctly for it to work,” said Tom Thibodeau said.

They made the right reads for most of the afternoon on Sunday — a major factor in one of the Knicks’ biggest wins in recent memory.

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