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Inside Scoop: Nick Nurse and Kyle Lowry Break Down How Raptors Stopped Jalen Brunson in His Tracks


The 76ers successfully launched an aggressive defensive plan against Knicks star Jalen Brunson.

NEW YORK — The Philadelphia 76ers only allowed 73 points to the New York Knicks in their most recent win at Madison Square Garden. They may have only scored 79 themselves, but their defense was great enough to secure a win. The Sixers were able to slow down Jalen Brunson enough to claim victory.

Brunson recorded a game-high 19 points but shot just 6-22 from the field. The Knicks star said himself that he played “like dogs**t” in the loss. The 76ers’ defensive mission was to take away any space he had and give him zero clean looks. Mission accomplished. Brunson’s 27.3 percent shooting from the field is his second-lowest in any game since the start of last season when he took 20 shots.

“We were sending a lot of people at him and he was having to work really hard to get into the paint,” Nick Nurse said. “And we weren’t letting him get there that often for him — for him. He’s tricky. Once he starts striding into the paint, he’s searching for bodies and swinging the ball around and he’s tough. It’s tough ’cause he’s very, very skilled and crafty at how to get to the free-throw line and how to score.”

Brunson managed 10 points and three assists on 3-6 shooting from the field in the third quarter but was otherwise unable to score efficiently. The 76ers treated him as the lone offensive threat for much of the night, which they could afford to because 1) All-Star Julius Randle is still out and 2) the Knicks often play lots of non-shooting threats around him.

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Defensively, Nurse said, the 76ers were “on point. We were physical. We were doing everything we were supposed to do. We turned them over 20-plus times. We were fighting like heck for rebounds against a team that really rebounds and basically, we were just fighting and executing the schemes really well.”

The 76ers’ aggressive defense vs. Knicks star Jalen Brunson paid off

Kyle Lowry propped Brunson up as an All-NBA-caliber player, someone who will be a dominant force for a long time. “Send bodies to him. Make him see bodies,” he said of the game plan against him. The 76ers defense kept their eyes on him all night, shrinking the floor at a moment’s notice when it looked like he might get a step. 

On many possessions, multiple 76ers would already be in the paint before Brunson made his move. While Cam Payne may struggle to guard a star like Brunson one-on-one, ceding a drive only allows Brunson so much space with Mo Bamba backing him up, Kelly Oubre Jr. lurking behind him, and Tobias Harris ready to pounce to provide help at the nail.

The Sixers dropped their centers only a few feet from any ball screens to deter Brunson from pulling from the mid-range, where he shoots 48 percent. Later in the game, they were brought up to the level of the screen, pulling them further from the rim to focus on Brunson’s shooting. It required a lot of quick footwork and for Brunson’s man to fight through any screen to get back to him. Those are the types of effort it takes to keep an All-Star down.

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The Knicks unintentionally helped the 76ers out by making awful decisions on offense. Their questionable spacing left them scrambling for good looks and operating without several others. New York committed a turnover on 24.1 percent of its possessions, its second-highest mark in any game this season.

Although Brunson only committed a pair of turnovers (only one of which was live-ball), each pass the Sixers deflected, intercepted, or disrupted was another chance taken away from Brunson. Philly cheated to certain spots all over the floor and sat in passing windows, picking off New York’s passes like a defense facing Daniel Jones.

The 76ers decided to let Josh Hart be on several plays where he got an open shot from deep, opting to show more bodies to Brunson and living with his college teammate/podcast co-host getting great looks. He shot just 4-13 from the field, including 1-7 from deep, with six turnovers.

Lowry may not be a threatening rim protector but on several possessions, he slid all the way to the restricted arc to provide even more help for Brunson. It gave Hart clean looks that he hadn’t seen since warm-ups but the 76ers’ gambles paid off.

The 76ers going overboard to stop Brunson was reminiscent of a playoff game plan. They had to bend a certain way to keep the Knicks in check but couldn’t break to the point of crumbling as a unit. It took calculated risks and a lot of effort to pull off what they did. And while some shooting luck contributed to the 1990s-esque score, Philly’s pristine execution is a timeless pillar of winning basketball.

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“JB is a tough guard,” Oubre said. “Like, it’s hard to guard him. But at the end of the day, I was glued on him all night and we were just on a string on defense, boxing out. We followed through with the game plan very nicely and it showed.”

Now, with Tyrese Maxey ready to make his return, the 76ers are getting a major boost after cracking the code for how to grind the Knicks’ offense to a screeching halt. But with OG Anunoby potentially coming back and New York surely crafting counters to Philly’s aggressive defense, that path to victory will be harder to summit a second time.

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About the Author

Sam DiGiovanni started at ClutchPoints as an associate editor in 2021 and became the site’s Philadelphia 76ers beat reporter ahead of the 2022-23 season. He graduated from Marist College in May of 2022 and has written for and in the past.


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