All indications were that Madison Square Garden was gonna party like it’s 1999 last night.  That happened to be the last time the Knicks closed out a playoff series with a win on their home court, en route to an unlikely NBA Finals run in an aberrative abbreviated season that ended with a spring run of miraculous plays and heroics reminiscent of even then distant memories of the glorified championship teams of the 70s.  And after the incredible ending to the previous home game, the celebrity-studded crowd was positively giddy.

But as if propelled by the sheer will of karma, the basketball gods aid an abrupt about-face, as ESPN’s Tim Bontemps wrote last night:

After the New York Knicks completed a miraculous comeback in Game 2 of their epic first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden last week, Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey vowed to make up for his turnover and missed shot in the closing moments that helped cost his team that game. 

Tuesday night, with Philadelphia’s season seemingly over, Maxey not only made up for it — he somehow did something even more absurd.

Thanks to his seven points in the final 28.9 seconds of regulation — back-to-back 3-pointers, the first of which he was fouled on by Mitchell Robinson for a four-point play — the 76ers erased a six-point lead inside the final 30 seconds and went on to claim a 112-106 overtime victory in Game 5, somehow sending this series back to Philadelphia with the Knicks up 3-2.

What made this game all the more remarkable — in a series that’s been chock full of wild moments and momentum swings through five games — is that it was the absolute inverse of what happened in Game 2, when the Knicks stormed back from down five inside the final 30 seconds to win in regulation.

And as CBS Sports’ Brad Botkin observed, those that had lived by the sword that swathed that Knicks comeback in Game 2 had now died by it in Game 5:

If you find someone with a penchant for detail, they might recall Isaiah Hartenstein’s offensive rebound that led to DiVincenzo’s 3, or Hartenstein’s block on Maxey’s ensuing layup attempt to preserve what was still just a one-point lead for the Knicks. 

What I can almost assure you nobody remembers is that even after DiVincenzo’s 3 and Hartenstein’s block and two more OG Anunoby free throws the put the Knicks up three, the 76ers still had possession with 6.6 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game. 

What happened next was an important bit of foreshadowing, even if nobody realized time at the time. See, rather than fouling Maxey as he raced the ball up the court to prevent the Sixers from attempting a game-tying 3-pointer, the Knicks defended the possession straight up, and Joel Embiid wound up getting a look at the buzzer. It wasn’t a great look, but it was a look. 

The Knicks gave Embiid and the Sixers that opportunity. It didn’t burn them in Game 2 because Embiid missed, but in Game 5 on Tuesday, as they defended the same 3-point lead in the closing seconds, the Knicks — which is to say Tom Thibodeau — once again opted not to foul as Maxey raced the ball up the court. And this time, it burned them.  This time, rather than pass to someone else, Maxey pulled up himself from 35 feet, lacing nothing by net to send the game to overtime.

And in the extra session, with the Knicks still forging yet another comeback, even their vaunted hero Jalen Brunson came up a cropper, as HEAVY’s CollIn Loring detailed:

Fatigue, missed free throws, and late turnovers will be the story of the New York Knicks‘ Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime. Jalen Brunson had his fair share of all three.

Tyrese Maxey gave the 76ers a chance to win Game 5 in overtime with a tying three-pointer in the fourth quarter. They did. In large part thanks to Brunson, who both missed a free throw and committed a crucial turnover in overtime.

Brunson took full accountability postgame, telling reporters it was a lack of judgement. “Not good judgement on my part,” he told SNY. “A careless turnover in overtime. Just making sure we’re all on the same page at the end of regulation. Hats off to them. They kept fighting and they played the full amount of 53 minutes.”

Head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that the All-Star was looking for a stationary Isaiah Hartenstein on the pass, not the center cutting.

“I believe it was Isaiah in the corner who was cutting,” Thibodeau told SNY. “And [Jalen] thought he was spotting, so”.

So indeed.

Loring attempted to put Knicks’ fans a tad more at ease when he rattled off the following statistics about what typically happens in these kind of situations in past playoffs:

According to Land of Basketball, of the 281 teams to take a 3-1 lead in the NBA playoffs, only 13 have given it up and lost the series. Land of Basketball says 78 of the winning teams went on to do so in Game 6. Of the 35 series to go to Game 7, 22 won after originally taking the 3-1 lead.

But for all the adjectives that can be applied to this series so far, typical would be toward the bottom of any list.

The Sixers, who were 25-16 at home this season, are expected by oddsmakers to ride this momentum, currently sitting as a 3 1/2 point favorite.  Which would then send this back to the Garden for a climactic Game 7 on their Knicks’ home floor–something we haven’t seen since Willis Reed limped onto the court in one of the most famous and impactful six-point performances in NBA playoff history.

Forget 1999 at this point.  Knicks fans are hoping they can party like it’s 1969-70.  \



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