Knicks-Sixers Is Going To Hurt Someone

The playoffs are not good for you. If they were, it wouldn’t be so hard to answer this question: Would you rather trade places with a Knicks fan or a Sixers fan right now?

The answer might seem obvious at first. Of course you would rather be with the Sixers this morning, who are just a few hours removed from one of the most memorable and improbable comeback victories in playoff history. Philadelphia, down 3-1 in the series, was trailing the Knicks 96-90 with 29 seconds left in Game 5. That’s when Tyrese Maxey received the inbound pass, dribbled around a Joel Embiid screen above the three-point line, pump-faked, jumped into a flying Mitchell Robinson, and hit a three. After Maxey hit his free throw, the Sixers intentionally fouled Josh Hart, who could only get a point back by going 1-of-2 at the line. Maxey got the ball again, pulled up from 35 feet with nine seconds left, and hit another three. Tie game, 97-97. Seven points in 20 seconds. The Sixers won in overtime, 112-106.

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For Maxey, those shots, and the 46 points he scored in the game, were something like redemption. He was at the center of the wild ending in Game 2, which gave us this series’ previous entry into the Hall Of Memorable And Improbable Playoff Victories, and now his ledger is clean. You can fumble a pass to lose a game you were leading by five with 47 seconds left, so long as you hit two shots like that in Game 5.

As for everyone else watching and playing in this series, doom has never been closer. The Knicks went from being in total control to getting humiliated on their home floor and facing the possibility of becoming the next franchise to infamously blow a 3-1 series lead. Nothing in sports saps the soul quite like waking up the morning after your team blew a playoff game that they should have won, goddammit. Jon Stewart and millions of others will spend today fixated on missed free throws, stupid turnovers, and every other little moment that could have gone differently in Game 5. Should the Knicks lose the next two games, Recrimination Season will hit this team like a truck. Can you really win the playoffs when your best player is a civilian-sized point guard? Would a team not coached by Tom Thibodeau have been fresher and more competitive as the series wore on? Do the Knicks need to trade for Kevin Durant???

The Sixers are no safer. Ironically, last night’s victory may have increased the likelihood of a particularly painful Recrimination Season being visited upon them. When the Knicks were up 2-0 and then 3-1, the door was open for all sorts of soothing rationalization. Were the Sixers ever really supposed to have any hope as a seven-seed whose best player was afflicted with a 19th-century midshipman’s list of maladies? The front office made a mess of the Harden trade. Tyrese Maxey is still too young for the bright lights of the playoffs. Tobias Harris is a ghost. This was never meant to be anything more than a gentleman’s sweep.

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That’s all out the window now. Maxey has proven that he is a worthy postseason running mate for Embiid, and the Sixers are undeniably competitive in this series. Hell, if Maxey had just held onto the ball in Game 2, they would have a 3-2 series lead heading back to their home floor. Who cares if Embiid looks like a teddy bear whose stuffing is starting to burst through the seams? They can do this!

One of these teams and one of these fanbases will soon be enjoying the afterglow of a thrilling, hard-fought series victory. The other will be mad, so mad, for the next 500 years.

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