Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse reacts during the first...

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse reacts during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Saturday, April 20, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Nick Nurse didn’t put too much stock in facing OG Anunoby in this Knicks-76ers first-round series. After all, the 76ers’ coach said, coaches and former players meet often in the playoffs.

“It happens a lot now when you’re in the league a little bit longer,” Nurse said Saturday before the Knicks’ 111-104 Game 1 win. “You move, they move .  .  . Me and Kyle [Lowry] against OG and Precious [Achiuwa] tonight? I don’t think that’s the matchups.”

Still, it’s a Raptors reunion and also a subplot in this matchup of defensive-minded teams. Nurse coached Anunoby for five seasons, and the two won a championship together in 2019.

Anunoby helped the Knicks to a 20-3 record in the regular-season games in which he played. On Saturday, he had 11 points, four rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes, and his only three-pointer put the Knicks up seven with 1:28 left.

Nurse isn’t surprised by his two-way impact. Last season, he helped Anunoby blossom into an All-Defensive second-team selection who led the league in steals.

If anything, he sees the Knicks using Anunoby in the same fashion he did in Toronto: a relentless on-ball defender who also can disrupt passing lanes and guard multiple positions.

“I don’t think it’s much different. He was a great defender for us,” Nurse said. “He wreaks some havoc off the ball defensively .  .  . also on the ball, he’s effective.

“Once he stops you, just getting it out to the next play on him, he’s effective tipping some of those things. Listen, he can do it from a lot of positions, too.”

It’s all things the Knicks have learned since trading for Anunoby on Dec. 30. Now it creates another layer in the series when it comes to adjustments.

Anunoby can help counter tweaks Nurse throws into this series. He primarily guarded Tyrese Maxey on the perimeter to start Game 1 but also had possessions in which he guarded center Joel Embiid.

“He’s smart. He knows when to get after the ball when he’s off ball,” Josh Hart said. “He communicates at a high level. That gives us confidence, especially defensively. If Maxey gets it going, he’ll be on him; if Tobias [Harris] gets going, he’ll be on him; if Joel gets going, he’ll spend time on him as well.”

That also is something Nurse knows very well. With the Raptors, Anunoby guarded multiple positions, from Nuggets center Nikola Jokic to Suns guard Devin Booker.

It adds more intrigue to the series with Game 2 on Monday. How Nurse handles his former pupil could be as critical as Embiid’s impact or that of Maxey or Jalen Brunson.

But it’s a challenge Nurse wants. He admires Anunoby’s impact on another team, the same kind of impact he had with Toronto.

“He really takes the challenge,” Nurse said. “Brunson comes down and scores, like, you got to be right back — OG’s that type of guy. You’re going to play good defense and the guy’s going to throw it on once in a while. You got to be right back down there going at it again.”


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