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Sixers’ Andre Drummond returns from sprained ankle

The backup center missed Sunday’s win at Oklahoma City with a sprained ankle.

Sixers, Andre Drummond talks to reporters at the end of practice on Tuesday, October 19, 2021., at the Sixers Practice Facility in Camden, N.J.
Sixers, Andre Drummond talks to reporters at the end of practice on Tuesday, October 19, 2021., at the Sixers Practice Facility in Camden, N.J.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

NEW YORK — The 76ers’ frontcourt was back to full strength for Tuesday’s game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Andre Drummond was active after missing Sunday’s game at Oklahoma City with a sprained right ankle and Joel Embiid was in the starting lineup despite being listed as questionable with right knee soreness for the third consecutive game.

Without Drummond in Sunday’s win against the Thunder, 6-foot-7 newcomer Georges Niang got his first stint as a small-ball five. He entered the game in the first quarter when Embiid left for about two minutes to change his tights, which had blood on them after he tumbled into the courtside seats going after a loose ball. Niang played 20 minutes and finished with 12 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists. Paul Reed, the other reserve big man, totaled 2 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.

Coach Doc Rivers said he did not particularly like Niang in the middle against Oklahoma City because the Thunder always switched off a screen with their lineups of like-sized players, rather than keep a more traditional big man on the smaller Niang, who can stretch the floor with his outside shooting.

“So there’s really no big advantage of it [offensively],” Rivers said of Niang in that matchup. “But when you can get Georges on the floor with a five that doesn’t switch, it’s going to pay big dividends.”

Entering Tuesday’s game, Drummond had led the Sixers in rebounds against New Orleans (17) and Brooklyn (10), while totaling at least two assists, two steals and two blocks in each game.

MSG memories

When Rivers comes into New York City with his family, they’ll sometimes break into singing the “Go New York Go” song.

That tune is forever “embedded in their heads,” the Sixers coach says with a chuckle today. He was a point guard for the Knicks during the heyday of the mid-1990s, when they went to the NBA Finals in 1994 and the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup that same season.

“I loved playing here. I absolutely loved it,” said Rivers, who was a Knick for parts of three seasons from 1992-95. “I don’t know if there was a better time, other than early ‘70s, to be with Knicks — or really in sports in New York. If you remember the one year with the Rangers and us trying to do it, that was just a magical time.”

Yet visits to Madison Square Garden also invoke some “tragic” memories for Rivers.

His first season with New York, the Knicks won 60 regular-season games and went up 2-0 on the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then they lost four consecutive games to drop the series, including a crushing Game 5 at The Garden when Charles Smith had four attempts at the rim for the game-winning layup in the final seconds but was stood up by Scottie Pippen and the Bulls’ defense.

“We also missed a lot of free throws in that game, but no one talks about that,” Rivers said of the Knicks’ 20-for-35 mark from the foul line in that game. “It taught you early on, winning’s hard. Everything has to go right, and only one team wins a year. … We were convinced we were going to win it.”

Rivers is also not a fan of one element of The Garden renovations completed in 2013.

“We would always come out in the middle [of the stands],” Rivers said while pointing behind him. “That’s the only thing I don’t like about the changes. I love what they’ve done, but Willis Reed can’t come through that tunnel anymore [as he dramatically did to play Game 7 of the 1970 Finals despite a torn thigh muscle}, and that bothers me. I think they should have kept the tunnel.”