But for the — the N.B.A.’s top defensive team and one with no player averaging more than 17 points a game — a short stop-and-pop jumper from Elton Brand midway through the fourth quarter Sunday iced a 106-94 victory over the and magnified glaring differences between the Atlantic Division rivals.
As the Knicks stick stars, new signings and a recent phenomenon into a blender and hope for the best, the 76ers continue to build on chemistry that has been developing for years.
They play hard, too.
“That’s our recipe,” 76ers Coach Doug Collins said. “I told the guys after the game that that’s what we do. There’s going to be teams we play against that have more talent, but we have to hope at the end of the day that our numbers make us a better team. That’s been our whole emphasis. As a coach, you can preach it all you want, but it doesn’t do you any good if your players don’t believe it.”
Collins praised Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young for embracing their roles off the bench. “If they weren’t happy in those situations, then it wouldn’t work because I’d be trying to figure out who I’m starting, all this other kind of stuff,” Collins said.
Young, a rangy forward with a solid inside-out game, aided the 76ers’ small lineup when Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni removed center Tyson Chandler, scoring 14 points. Williams, the 76ers’ leading scorer at 15.9 points a game, erupted for 27 points in his first 17 minutes. His speed and penchant for sinking shots in bunches brought a playground flair to a mostly dreary game.
Evan Turner, the 76ers’ other standout on offense Sunday, said of Williams: “I know they’re probably thinking, like, look at him. He’s 6 feet, with curly good hair. How is he doing this?”
Williams said he enjoyed being able to explode offensively one night and not feel the pressure of carrying the load the next. “I think that’s one of our strengths,” he said, “that we have strength in numbers.”
Turner said that playing more had been a primary cause for his recent emergence. Asked if he was playing the best basketball of his young career, Turner said: “For sure it’s the most minutes I’ve gotten. And you can’t do much without minutes.”
The 76ers were criticized for selecting Turner with the second pick in 2010, ahead of players like Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins. Turner (24 points, 15 rebounds Sunday) has averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds in three games since he made a poor debut in the starting lineup against Milwaukee on Monday.
The rebounding number is astronomical for a shooting guard.
“He had 14 defensive rebounds,” Collins said. “When you rebound the ball like that, you’re in the open court. Plus, when he’s out there with Lou, Jrue or Dre, we can throw the ball ahead and get early offense.”
Jrue is Jrue Holiday and Dre is Andre Iguodala. They set the tone for the 76ers’ defense and lead the team in minutes. Holiday harassed Jeremy Lin into a poor performance — 5-for-18 shooting and six turnovers. Collins called Iguodala, a first-time All-Star this year, the best perimeter defender in the N.B.A. and speculated that he might be the league’s best conditioned athlete. Iguodala’s lockdown defense may earn him a spot on the United States Olympic team this summer.
Through Saturday, the 76ers led the league in points allowed (87.7 points a game) and opposition shooting (41.4 percent). They were second in 3-point defense and first in defensive efficiency.
Despite a five-game skid in February and an 0-7 record in games decided by 5 points or fewer, Philadelphia sits atop the Atlantic with a 25-17 record, looking far more dangerous than the Knicks and the Boston Celtics. The 76ers are expected to get another piece to their symbiotic puzzle, center Spencer Hawes, back Wednesday from a strained Achilles’ tendon. They are 12-2 with Hawes in the lineup.
“With the type of season that we’re having and the schedule, we’re just really feeling good about ourselves,” Iguodala said.