It’s officially desperation time for this year’s Philadelphia 76ers. In a game that strangely mirrored its direct predecessor, the Sixers came flying out of the gate in game 5, only to squander the lead in frustrating fashion during the second half. When the dust settled, the Hawks defeated the Sixers 109-106. The Atlanta victory brings them within a game of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, the Sixers will have to win two in a row, including a game 6 on the road, in order to advance to the next round.
This loss has to fall squarely on the shoulders of Philadelphia’s periphery stars, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris. It’s a clear problem when the primary playoff story for an important player is their disastrous free throw shooting. This is exactly the case for Simmons who struggled once again from the charity stripe, shooting a horrific 4-14. The Hawks even employed the hack-a-Simmons strategy when trying to cut down on the Sixers big early lead. Coach Rivers was actually quick to sub Simmons out during these situations, but the experience still kills any momentum the Sixers would have. All told, Simmons finished with 8 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds. The team flat out needs more from him if they are to have any chance at all in the remainder of this series.
Tobias Harris, meanwhile, may have played an even worse game. In 38 minutes of action he managed just 4 points, going 2-11 from the field and 0-3 from behind the arc. The Sixers were searching for offense outside of Embiid and Harris, who has fit that mold all year, could not deliver. Seth Curry, on the other hand, did come to play. He delivered another stellar game and has proven consistently reliable all series. In this contest, he had his playoff career high with 36 points. He was feeling his shot all game, shooting a remarkable 13-19 from the field and an outstanding 7-12 from three point land.
But Curry and Embiid were the only players providing serious production in the points department. The Sixers built a gigantic first half lead behind the dominant play of Embiid, who posted a double-double in just a half’s worth of play. However, their possessions continued to come up empty down the stretch and the Hawks never gave up. Trae Young put on a dazzling display with 39 points and 7 assists, despite hounding defense all game courtesy of the Simmons/Thybulle combination. Lou Williams also went supernova in the fourth quarter, hitting shot after shot, and being a huge reason the Hawks eviscerated the Sixers in that quarter with a +21 point differential.
We will now truly see how gritty this defensive-minded Philadelphia team is. Embiid has demonstrated through his play that he can shoulder a huge amount during this series, but he will need help from his fellow starters for the Sixers to avoid a disappointing second round exit. The Hawks have a talented roster, but there’s no way the Sixers should be blowing double digit leads in consecutive games.
At this point, the Sixers need to adopt a one-game-at-a-time mentality. That game of focus will be game 6, which will be played in Atlanta Friday, at 7:30 PM. The Sixers know they will get a steady performance out of Embiid, but will Simmons and Harris show up in desperation mode as well?