Knicks squander second-half lead, lose to 76ers

PHILADELPHIA — Josh Hart was still muscling his way through traffic when the Knicks tipped off against the 76ers on Friday night. Given their second-half swoon, maybe he should have taken the Acela.

The Knicks were missing their newest trade acquisition — a two-way guard and defensive nuisance — as they squandered a double-digit third-quarter lead and lost to the 76ers, 119-108, at Wells Fargo Center.

Hart, acquired in a trade with the Trail Blazers before the NBA trade deadline, passed his physical, the team confirmed. Tom Thibodeau said the Knicks will explore how to best integrate him into his new team.

Hart was listed as inactive Friday, and Thibodeau wouldn’t say whether that will change against the Jazz at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. He also wouldn’t say whether Hart will move into the starting lineup.

The Knicks led by 12 in the third quarter when the 76ers took off on a 13-0 run that gave them an 87-86 advantage, their first lead of the game. They outscored the Knicks 33-28 in the third quarter and 27-15 in the fourth, when an 8-0 run in the final 1:36 iced the victory.

“We should be walking out here with a win, but give them credit,” Jalen Brunson said. “We were up whatever we were up and we were rolling and we had the game pretty much in check until we made a couple turnovers and the back-to-back threes where they cut it to five and it was 86-81 and then from that point on, they were kind of in control of the game.”

Julius Randle had 30 points and 10 rebounds and Brunson had 30 points (20 in the first quarter), nine assists and seven rebounds for the Knicks (30-27).

Joel Embiid had 35 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, reserve Tyrese Maxey scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half and James Harden had 20 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds for the 76ers (35-19).

“I actually liked the way our team has been fighting, but you’re on the road against a good team,” Thibodeau said. “Your margin of error is small and you’ve got to execute for 48 minutes . . . and oftentimes, it’s a hustle play. We’re not going to be perfect, but if you do make a mistake, hustle and don’t give up the points.”

The Knicks didn’t make the biggest splash at Thursday’s deadline, but games like Friday’s make it pretty clear that Hart is a welcome addition.

“He’s just an all-around two-way player,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, terrific defender, elite rebounder, knows how to play, makes plays for other people, and I think just what he’s done in the league thus far, I think it’ll be a good fit for us . . . I think he can play with different groups. He can play as a 4 just because of his physicality, obviously a 3, probably natural, the 2. I love his playmaking, too.”

Hart, 27, is averaging 9.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in a career-high 33.4 minutes this season. He’s one of the best rebounding guards in the league.

Before the trade became official on Thursday night, Thibodeau had to be very careful about what he said about Hart and was forced to speak in general terms. On Friday, he was far more expansive.

“He’s got great quickness to the ball,” he said. “He’s a range rebounder . . . I think ability to read the ball and then to know who shooters are. You understand, OK, what types of misses do they have? And you can usually tell by where it’s shot, and I think he’s a big-time multiple-effort guy. He’s gonna keep going.”

The move also means that Hart gets to reunite with former Villanova teammate Brunson. Both celebrated the reunion on Twitter — in an amusing video, Brunson reacted emphatically and positively upon learning of the trade — and Thibodeau said the chemistry there can only help a team trying to reach the playoffs.

“I’m very excited,” Brunson said. “Obviously, I’ve known him for a long time. I just can’t wait to get him on the court. I know he’s one of those players that’s going to give it his all every time he’s on the court . . . He does a lot. He can do everything. And I think with him, he has a mindset — whatever the team needs, he can fulfill that.”

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