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Achiuwa ‘Professional,’ Not Precious In Knicks’ Dominating Defensive Effort

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Precious Achiuwa’s MVP effort on Joel Embiid has the New York Knicks on the precipice of advancing in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

Pressed into service in the wake of Mitchell Robinson’s Game 3 injury, one aggravated in a series of physical encounters with reigning NBA MVP, Achiuwa is the latest metropolitan depth star to gain cult hero status. His shutdown defense on Embiid in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals partly paved the way to a 97-92 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon, one that gave the Knicks a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven set.

Embiid seemed poised to shift the series in Philadelphia’s favor with a 50-point effort in Game 3 but Achiuwa at the very least delayed such a phenomenon: collaborating with fellow Canadian import OG Anunoby, Achiuwa held Embiid frutiless from the field on five attempts in the fourth quarter, as his single point in the period came at the foul line.

One could claim that Achiuwa lived up to his namesake on Sunday, but the big man himself rejected such a notion in the aftermath.


Mar 12, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) dunks the ball

“That’s part of being a professional. I pride myself in being a professional, coming in and doing what I have to do, and just, when the opportunity comes around, taking advantage of it, and playing to the best of my abilities.” Achiuwa said, per Peter Botte of the New York Post. “To me, that’s what it comes down to, just continue being professional. Things happen in this league, ups and downs, and whatnot, and I understand things I can contribute to the team. I think I’ve done that at a really high level in the season, and I understand the level I’m capable of playing at.” 

Achiuwa implied that drawing primary Embiid duty is nothing new for him (and Anunoby), as he previously engaged in the assignment when they were Toronto Raptors during the opening round against Philadelphia in the 2022 playoffs. Embiid’s Sixers won that battle in six but it might’ve given Achiuwa just enough of a winning edge for Sunday.

“I’ve spent a lot of time guarding him over the years,” Achiuwa said, per Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News. “So it was just understanding the things he likes to do, and that also comes with being a smart defender, as well. You watch players and tendencies and things they like to do, and you try to counter that.”

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Mar 28, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3) and forward Scottie

Achiuwa, who also registered seven rebounds and four blocks in Game 4, was perhaps a bit of an afterthought when he came over from the Raptors in late December, as the main headliner was the defensive stalwart Anunoby. Having previously taken advantage of the opportunities afforded to him when Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein each battled injuries in the regular season, Achiuwa ingrained himself into the Knicks’ success: New York was a perfect 11-0 when he played at least 20 minutes and posted a plus/minus of at least 10 in the black.

That, however, wasn’t enough to afford him residency in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s ironclad eight-man playoff rotation, the interior duties exclusively handled by Hartenstein and Robinson. But the latter’s ankle ailment forced Achiuwa back into service and he certainly disappoint.

“I don’t know how to (explain it),” Achiuwa said, per Ian Begley of SNY. “It’s a feel thing between me and OG. When we’re involved in a defensive action, I understand what he wants to do, we read off each other and play off each other that way. … That’s kind of what played into it today.”

Time will tell where the Knicks’ defensive picture stands come Tuesday, which will host the first of three opportunities for them to close out the series (7 p.m. ET, MSG/TNT).

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