Defense wins championships. Playoff basketball is fertile ground for many a sports cliche, but the preceding phrase is surely one of the most often repeated. And hackneyed as it is, the mantra meshed well with this year’s Sixers squad, who ranked near the top of every defensive team metric. But alas, In the first game of the second round clash between the Hawks and Sixers, Philadelphia had no defensive answers for the firestorm Atlanta rained on them.
The Hawks came ready to play and absolutely lurched out of the gate with a staggering 42 points in just the first quarter. Only truly prolific shooters achieve 50/40/90 splits (FG%, 3PT%, FT%) and Atlanta did this as a team in game 1. As expected, they were led by third-year guard Trae Young who poured in 35 points along with 10 assists. He was primarily aided by teammates Bogdan Bogdanovic (21 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) and John Collins (21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals), with Kevin Huerter providing a productive 29 minutes off the bench (15 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds). The Hawks persisted to shoot, and make, outside shoots across the entirety of the contest.
Philadelphia rolled with their traditional starting lineup, which surprised many as Embiid’s injury was thought to be significantly more serious than his short absence suggests. While the big man started a bit slow, his play down the stretch should quell any concerns about his ability moving forward. He increasingly grew more comfortable as the game progressed and finished game 1 with an impressive 39 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. His health and sustained dominant play will surely be necessary for the Sixers success as Dwight Howard somehow posted a plus/minus of -15 in just 8 minutes of action.
Ben Simmons, for the nth time this season, was both dazzlingly brilliant and ridiculously frustrating. His positive energy was clear from the start as he was aggressively attacking the Hawk’s defense the first few possessions. Additionally, he shot a perfect 7-7 from the field, matched Trae Young’s total with ten assists, and came up with four steals (most leading directly to Sixers baskets in transition). And yet he was an abysmal 3-10 from the foul line and opposing teams are increasingly becoming privy to this obvious weakness in his, and the Sixers, game. Good news for the Sixers is that Simmons’ intends to take on the challenge of guarding Young in game 2.
Although Seth Curry and Tobias Harris notched 21 and 20 points respectively, the Sixers couldn’t find any reliable production off the bench. This deficiency may very well be the untold story of this game. Thybulle ended up being the Sixers top scorer off the bench which isn’t a good sign as he’s a defensive specialist.
If you blinked during the opening moments of this game, then the Sixers were already down by double digits. They played a majority of the contest with a steep deficit and only really started narrowing the Hawks’ lead in the fourth (where Philadelphia scored 41 points to Atlanta’s 29). The Sixers will need a stronger showing out of the gate in game 2, but a victory to tie the series is fully within their grasp when these teams meet again at 7:30 PM this Tuesday.