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Madison Square Garden was absolutely rocking on Sunday afternoon as the New York Knicks gutted out a hard-fought 97-92 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers to take a 3-1 series lead in their Eastern Conference first round matchup. Jalen Brunson had an iconic performance for the ages, setting a new Knicks playoff record with 47 points to go along with 10 assists. His partner in crime, OG Anunoby, filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and lockdown defense on Joel Embiid.  

This gritty win showcased everything that has made this Knicks team so formidable, especially at home where they improved to 13-0 this season with both Brunson and Anunoby in the lineup. Stellar defense, relentless effort on the glass, and a true team-first mentality where each player stepped up in key moments. As the series now shifts back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5, the raucous New York crowd could be providing the extra home court boost to propel their beloved Knicks into the second round.

From the opening tip, it was clear Brunson had something special brewing. The diminutive point guard sliced his way into the paint at will, feasting on the Sixers’ drop coverage against ball screens. Time and again, Philadelphia’s defensive strategy left Brunson with clear runways to the basket or open mid-range jumpers, which he knocked down with poise and precision.  

“We tried to make an adjustment, but Brunson just cooked us,” admitted Sixers coach Doc Rivers. “He was living in that mid-range area all night and we just couldn’t get a grip on stopping him.”

Brunson poured in 19 points in the first quarter alone on a barrage of floaters, pull-up jumpers, and acrobatic finishes at the rim. The highlight was an insanely difficult fading runner across his body that banked in as the shot clock expired, leaving players on both teams shaking their heads in disbelief.

As the game wore on, Brunson’s wizardry only continued. He relentlessly attacked the Sixers’ big men in pick-and-roll situations, forcing them to make tough choices – give him an open look, foul him, or get out of position and give up an easy pass to a rolling big. More often than not, the Knicks were able to capitalize as Brunson’s decision-making was near flawless.

“He was just super aggressive from the jump and had it rolling,” praised Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau. “When Jalen gets it going like that and gets downhill, he’s tough for anyone to stay in front of.”

The injury absence of Mitchell Robinson left New York shorthanded in the frontcourt, but they found an able replacement in OG Anunoby’s inspired performance. The lanky forward was a dominating presence on both ends, hounding Embiid into tough shots while also crashing the glass ferociously.

On one particularly remarkable sequence, Anunoby rejected Embiid’s shot attempt from behind, then scrapped his way to secure the offensive rebound. He then immediately turned and fired a pinpoint pass to a wide open Quentin Grimes for a back-breaking three-pointer as the home crowd went delirious.

“That’s just OG doing what he does – the little things all over the court that adds up to winning plays,” said Brunson. “He neutralizes the other team’s best player on defense and then comes down and makes every hustle play imaginable on offense. That’s so valuable for us.”

While Brunson and Anunoby led the way, it was very much a balanced team effort from the gritty Knicks. Josh Hart, who logged over 44 minutes, stood out with his typically relentless defense and toughness. Miles McBride provided a spark off the bench. And veteran role players like Quentin Grimes and Obi Toppin all made timely plays and embraced their roles to a tee.

Perhaps most impressively, New York executed a near flawless gameplan against Embiid in the fourth quarter despite being undermanned. With Robinson out and Isaiah Hartenstein having fouled out midway through the period, the Knicks unleashed a unique defensive strategy of constant double teams and switching to keep Embiid from getting any easy looks.

On possession after possession, New York’s team defensive rotations were crisp and precise. They kept funneling multiple defenders at Embiid to get the ball out of his hands, while still recovering effectively to contest any kickout attempts from the Sixers’ sharpshooters. 

“Embiid is a load, you’re not guarding him individually,” said Thibodeau. “We had to guard him with our team, keep bodies coming at him, and I thought our guys did a great job following the gameplan.”

In the final three minutes, the Knicks held Philadelphia scoreless as their suffocating defense completely stymied the Sixers’ half-court offense. Multiple times, frantic Philadelphia ball movement around the perimeter was met by a quick interior double from the likes of Anunoby, Brunson, or McBride to force a tough contest at the rim or a heavily guarded jumper.

“We just struggled to get any easy looks against their defensive intensity down the stretch,” said Embiid. “They really made us work for every shot and wore us down by the end.”

On the other end, Brunson and the Knicks continued to batter the Sixers on the offensive glass. New York grabbed a remarkable 15 offensive rebounds that extended several possessions and led to 21 second chance points. Over half of those, a backbreaking 11 second chance points, came in the pivotal fourth quarter during a stretched where both offenses went ice cold.

“It was just a dogfight out there, both teams grinding on every possession,” said Brunson. “Those extra opportunities were so huge for us being able to pull this game out.”

As the final seconds ticked away, the roars from the raucous Madison Square Garden crowd grew deafening. The beloved Knicks had taken a commanding 3-1 series lead and now stand just one home win away from advancing to the second round. With their gritty performance in Game 4, they proved their early series success was no fluke.

“From the jump, our focus has been defending at an elite level and leaving it all out on the court,” said Thibodeau. “These guys showed tonight how resilient and tough they are – it’s a pleasure coaching this group.”

While the series is not over and the Knicks still have work to do against a proud Sixers squad led by a generational talent in Embiid, the Game 4 victory had the feel of a seminal moment. Brunson etched his name into the history books with a virtuoso performance for the ages. Anunoby came up massive yet again. And the entire New York supporting cast brought effective role player production and championship-level toughness yet again.

“This place is just different – this crowd gives us such an edge,” beamed Brunson. “We want to keep feeding off that energy and taking care of business one game at a time.”

If they can replicate their inspired Game 4 showing, these upstart Knicks might just find themselves advancing into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. Propelled by the electrifying Brunson and hard-nosed Anunoby, this resilient squad has all the makings of a team that could be dangerous once again at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

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