NEW YORK – Here are my key takeaways and "best" and "worst" awards from the 76ers' 105-98 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
— No one will compare facing the Knicks to the Toronto Raptors. But the Sixers had a better overall effort on Christmas than in their games against the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors on Saturday and Thursday. Some of it had to do with JJ Redick's return after missing the Raptors games. However, a lot of it was the result of the Sixers' just being more locked-in because of the must-win situation. For them, this has been a season full of distractions that come with trying to rebuild their national brand. That contributed to their losing five consecutive games before nabbing Monday's victory.
— Joel Embiid wasn't the best big man on the MSG court. That's crazy, considering that he had 25 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and three blocks to go with six turnovers. However, the Knicks' Enes Kanter was a load on Christmas. He put up game highs of 31 points and 22 rebounds to go with just two turnovers while outplaying Embiid. Eleven of his rebounds were offensive.
— The Sixers won despite subpar performances from Robert Covington and Dario Saric. The forwards combined to shoot 6 for 23. Saric made just 4 of 15 shots, missing all six of his three-point attempts. The power forward had 10 points and just three rebounds. Meanwhile, Covington finished with eight points on 2-for-8 shooting. He missed 3 of his 4 threes. The small forward suffered a minor knee injury in the fourth quarter. However, that wasn't the reason he sat out the final 6 minutes, 21 seconds. The team just went with T.J. McConnell, who was more effective.
— By now, we all know Richaun Holmes is a situational backup. In other words, the athletic center/power forward becomes part of the game plan only when it's the right situation to display his athleticism or when Embiid is sidelined. The third-year veteran didn't have his number called Monday after playing 3:41 of mop-up duty in a blowout loss Saturday.
— The Sixers still need to take better care of the ball in the clutch. They were elated to have only 15 turnovers against the Knicks. However, five of them came in the final 1:31. Luckily for the Sixers, the Knicks missed four of their five shots and all three of their free throws and committed three turnovers during that time.
‘Best’ and ‘worst’ awards
— Best performance: This was an easy one. Kanter was the best player on the floor even in a loss.
— Worst performance: This was a tough one, but I ended up giving this award to Dario Saric. The Sixers power forward struggled big-time.
— Best defensive performance: I'm giving this to Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks power forward posted a game-high five blocked shots and had a big hand in Saric's struggles.
— Worst statistic: The Knicks' three-point shooting. They made 4 of 15, 26.7 percent.
— Best statistic: Redick's foul shooting. He went 8 for 8.
— Worst of the worst: This goes to the Knicks' fourth-quarter shooting. They missed 16 of their 27 shots in the period.