After dropping the first game on their homecourt, the Philadelphia 76ers responded in a huge way, defeating the Atlanta Hawks 118-102 to knot the series even at one game a piece after two contests.
Joel Embiid may have lost the MVP race to Denver’s Nikola Jokic, but his level of play in this 76ers win showed why he was more than worthy of being a finalist for the award. He contributed 40 points (13-25 FG), 13 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block across 35 minutes of action. What’s more, he got to the free throw line at will, where he connected on 12 of his 16 attempts. Even though the Hawks have the defensive bodies to throw at him with Clint Capela and John Collins, neither has demonstrated that they can slow Embiid in the slightest.
While Embiid was clearly the Sixers offensive fulcrum down the stretch, it was Tobias Harris who carried the offensive load in the early going. Of his 22 total points, 16 came in the first quarter. As a result of Harris’s hot start and a return to form on defense, the Sixers built a 13 points lead going into the second quarter. This was exactly the start they needed after surrendering 42 points to the Hawks in the first quarter of game 1 and never making up that ground.
Philadelphia’s first quarter dominance wouldn’t last as the Hawks battled back and nearly tied the score by halftime. However, Embiid absolutely took over the third quarter with 17 points and the Hawks were unable to keep up from there, particularly as both Seth Curry and Shake Milton were deadly from three point land (5-6 3PT and 4-5 3PT respectively).
The most encouraging takeaway from this victory was the stifling defense played by the Sixers. Trae Young was particularly bothered as he shot just 6-16 from the field and 1-7 from behind the arc. He was definitely a focus for the Sixers who routinely placed either Simmons or Thybulle on the young guard. Doc Rivers is quickly learning to cut off the head, which is Trae Young, from the Hawks and dare anyone else from their roster to step up.
Game 3 of this series will take place at 7:30 PM this Friday, June 11th. This contest will see the Sixers travelling to Atlanta for the first time in the series in a very important tie-breaking matchup. I expect to see adjustments from the Hawks, but it’s mighty tough to gameplan for the sheer dominance of a Joel Embiid who doesn’t appear hindered by a meniscus tear.