Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau looks on against the Chicago...

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau looks on against the Chicago Bulls in the second half at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, April 14, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

In their homes — or more than likely in the case of Tom Thibodeau, in his office — the Knicks were scouting, watching the play-in game intently as the Philadelphia 76ers emerged with a gutty, comeback win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Philadelphia advances to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and an opening-round matchup with the Knicks.

And while watching the tendencies and schemes, the Knicks could also see what any observer could — that Joel Embiid is not 100%. But you can be just as certain that Thibodeau and his team will not be taking the 76ers lightly, even after taking three of four from Philadelphia in the regular season.

Embiid showed just how dangerous he can be, even if he wasn’t moving right, playing 38 minutes and finishing with 23 points and 15 rebounds. And the reward was a matchup between two teams that haven’t met in the postseason since 1989.

“I think they’re for real,” Philadelphia coach Nick Nurse said of the Knicks.

“I think they’re really good. I think they’re fast. I think they can shoot. Think they hit the glass. Think they guard you. I think they’ve earned that seed. They’ve played really well and beaten a lot of good teams, so we’ll have our work to do here in the next couple of days to get ready for them.”

The certainty the Knicks could at least cling to was that they had an opponent after two days of practice with no ability to focus in on one opponent. Thibodeau turned on the film Wednesday in Greenburgh as he continued to prep his team for Saturday’s playoff opener, but the preparation was a double feature — showing the Knicks a sampling of both the Heat and the 76ers.

The Knicks worked through some rudimentary study of both possible opponents. But the work was mostly on their own play, cleaning up mistakes and fixing holes in their game.

And while they began their homework on the opponent, there was no preference for either team to advance.

Thibodeau won’t hand out playbooks for the series until Thursday morning and distribute what players have described as similar to huge college textbooks. And when he does give them their homework, he said, like in school, a pop quiz may be coming.

“Yeah, we pop them. I have a few targets in mind,” Thibodeau said. And if they don’t have the answers? “Fine. Suspend. Not start. Usually this time of year the focus is great. Knowing your opponent better than they know you is such an important part of winning. So when they get here, you understand why.”

“He hasn’t quizzed me,” Josh Hart said. “I’d probably fail. Nah, I might go home and study a little bit today. He’s giving us the keys to the test tomorrow so we’ll see.”

The Knicks had not only recorded three wins in four games against Philadelphia, but dominated them in the one game that Embiid was a part of, winning by 36 points in Philadelphia in January. And while nothing is the same — the Knicks had Julius Randle in that game (although he was 1-for-11 shooting in the game) and were in just their third game with OG Anunoby — the Knicks then beat them by 14 without Randle or Anunoby before splitting a back-to-back set, losing by six and then winning by 27.

“It starts with the head of the snake,” Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey said on NBA TV. “We see the season Jalen Brunson has had. He’s been remarkable. We’ve got to slow him down first and foremost. And then they have very good complementary players behind him.

“Really good shooting, OG, Donte [DiVincenzo]. We’ve got to go out there and be extremely aggressive. It’s going to be a dogfight. We know that. Their crowd is going to be into it. Our crowd is going to be into it.”

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME