OG Anunoby lifts Knicks to blowout win over 76ers in return

What a difference a player makes – and, specifically, OG Anunoby for the New York Knicks.

After scoring the fewest points in an NBA match in over three years without him Sunday in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers here at Madison Square Garden, Anunoby returned from a several-week absence with an elbow injury to help deliver a 106-79 victory over their rivals down Interstate 95.

Anunoby concluded with 14 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists and was a plus-28 in 29 minutes.

“Everything felt good,” Anunoby said in first game in several weeks after undergoing surgery to remove loose bodies from his right (shooting) elbow. “I was excited to be back out there. It was fun.”

It was a lot more fun all around for New York (38-27), after the Knicks scored just 73 points Sunday and both the Knicks and Philadelphia (36-29) combining for the lowest point total in more than eight years in the 76ers’ 79-73 win.

In this one, however, New York jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, leading by 20-plus for most of the second half on their way to a more than comfortable victory.

New York had been without its entire starting frontcourt of Anunoby, Julius Randle (shoulder) and Mitchell Robinson (ankle) since both Anunoby and Randle last played on Jan. 27 in a victory here over the Miami Heat. But in his first game back, Anunoby played like he hadn’t missed a day, immediately slotting back into his role of defensive ace and opportunistic scorer with aplomb.

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“I thought OG gave us a great lift for the first time back after a layoff,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The energy and just the effort plays and the movement, the shooting, added a lot to the team.”

It was a night full of notable injury returns on both sides, as not only did Anunoby return for New York, but All-Star point guard Tyrese Maxey came back for the 76ers after missing the prior four games while in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

But outside of Maxey (17 points) and Kelly Oubre (19) there wasn’t much working for Philadelphia offensively as the 76ers fell to 10-21 this season in games without the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, Joel Embiid.

“That’s what I told them after the game, is that it starts with competing and physicality and execution, and we did not start the game with any of those three things,” 76ers coach Nick Nurse said. “You gotta have all three of them. Especially against a team that’s pissed off that you just beat them. You’re gonna have to take that up a notch. Didn’t learn that very good.”

The updates on both sides, however, went beyond both Anunoby and Maxey.

For New York, Thibodeau also had pregame status reports for both Randle, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, and Robinson ahead of Tuesday’s game, each of which was different in tone. For Randle, there is no change in his status, with Thibodeau saying he stays in “controlled” contact situations. There’s currently no timetable he was willing to share about when that would change to 5-on-5 practice.

“Just hasn’t had the contact yet,” Thibodeau said. “The conditioning is good, he’s shooting, doing individual work, that’s all good. He can do 5-0, that sort of thing. Light contact with the pads. That contact is what you would term controlled. You know what the move is, so you can brace yourself for it.

“There’s a progression to what you have to go through.”

The news on Robinson, however, seemed much more encouraging, with Thibodeau saying Robinson “should” be progressing to contact practice sometime soon.

“He’s on the court,” Robinson said. “He can run, jump, no contact yet. But that should be coming soon so he’s making really good, steady progress.”

Philadelphia, meanwhile, remains without Embiid, with Nurse saying that while the star center has progressed to on-court work, there remains no timetable for progress beyond that. Embiid has been out since Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga inadvertently fell on his leg on Jan. 31.

The 76ers are 26-8 when Embiid is on the floor this season, but without him they finished up play Tuesday sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, a half-game ahead of the Miami Heat in eighth in a tightly-contested race from fourth (New York) to eighth.

“All of us in this 4-8 range are trying to get 6th, 5th or 4th to get out of the [play-in tournament],” Nurse said before the game. “We’ve gotta fight it out. We’ll probably be better when we get our guys back — if and when — and then we’ll see what happens then.”

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