Brunson, Hart heroics lift Knicks by Sixers in 6, into East semis

The Villanova boys did it again.

Jalen Brunson had 14 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter and hit Josh Hart for his 12th assist, and what became the game-winning 3-pointer with 24 seconds left, as the New York Knicks escaped from Wells Fargo Center with a thrilling 118-115 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 of this first-round series.

With the win, the Knicks advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals for a second consecutive season — a feat the franchise hasn’t accomplished since 2000, when it did so for a ninth consecutive time.

Now, New York will prepare to face the Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals set to begin Monday night at The World’s Most Famous Arena.

For Philadelphia, their home court at Wells Fargo Center has been a playoff house of horrors over the past three years. There was the Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in 2021, when Ben Simmons passed up an open dunk; the Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat the following year, when the Heat pulled away in the second half to win the game; and the Game 6 loss to the Boston

Celtics last year, when Philly melted down in the fourth quarter and then got routed in Boston in Game 7.

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In the opening moments of the game, it quickly looked like history could repeat itself, as New York buried six of its first eight shots and leapt to a 33-11 lead in the first quarter. No Sixer besides Joel Embiid — who concluded with 39 points and 13 rebounds — scored until Tyrese Maxey made a layup eight minutes into the game. Philadelphia repeatedly was beaten on the offensive glass and coughed up the ball.

But just when it looked like this was destined to be another awful home playoff exit, Philadelphia stormed back into the game — thanks in large part to a forgotten player in this series, backup guard Buddy Hield.

The team’s top trade deadline acquisition, Hield had gone 1-for-7 through the first three games of this series, and had been benched for all of Games 4 and 5. But with things looking desperate, 76ers coach Nick Nurse turned to Hield late in the first quarter, and he responded by scoring 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range.

Hield’s outburst powered a 43-18 run to end the first half for Philadelphia, sending the hosts into the halftime break with a 54-51 lead. In retaking the lead, the 76ers became the 1st team to trail by 20+ points in the 1st half and lead at halftime in the last 25 postseasons, per ESPN’s Stats & Information.

Before the match, Nurse made a comment about how unpredictable the series has been.

“I’ve decided nothing matters,” Nurse said with a laugh. “They kill us on the glass, it goes down to the buzzer. We kill them on the glass, it goes down to the buzzer. Joel scores 50, it goes down to the buzzer. Brunson scores 47, it goes down to the buzzer.

“Tell me what matters, and when everybody figures it out, let me know … but it seems that, to me, that these are two teams just fighting their guts out no matter what.”

The second half became more of the same. Philadelphia briefly took a 10-point lead early in the third, before back-to-back ill-advised pulls from 3-point range by Tyrese Maxey helped let the Knicks get back into the game, eventually tying it late in the third on an OG Anunoby 3-pointer to send this one to the fourth tied at 83 points.

But as the game’s final minutes wound down, it was – who else? – but Brunson, New York’s talisman all season long, who powered the Knicks home, including a runner with 3:26 remaining that gave New York a 107-99 lead with 3:26 left, forcing Nurse to call timeout and for a loud “Let’s Go Knicks!” chant to ring out across the arena.

It was a stinging reminder that plenty of New Yorkers had invaded this arena for a third time in this series – even after the team’s owners, plus former owner Michael Rubin, had bought 2,000 tickets and given them to first responders in the hopes of avoiding just that.

But those cheers quickly went away, as the 76ers managed to erase that lead, tying the game with a Tyrese Maxey and-one with 34.9 seconds left.

That, however, only set the stage for Hart’s heroics, as Brunson drove in from the left wing and kicked to Hart at the top of the key. And, after hesitating for a minute, the wide-open forward buried the triple and raised both his arms into the air in celebration.

Then, after a Joel Embiid layup and several free throws both ways, Hield’s final potential game-tying 3 missed wide, and New York – finally – survived and advanced.

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