Good morning, Sixers fans. I know this isn’t a position in which you expected to see the team, down one game after losing Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with Sunday’s 128-124 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks.
The Sixers trailed by as many as 26 points and cut the deficit to 126-124 on a Ben Simmons dunk with 10.5 seconds left only to see Bogan Bogdanovic put the game away with two free throws with 8.9 seconds left.
It was an impressive performance from the Hawks, who also won two road games in their opening-round win over the New York Knicks, a series they captured in five games.
While facing Atlanta isn’t considered as difficult as meeting the other teams in the Eastern Conference semifinals — Brooklyn leads Milwaukee, 1-0, in the other series — the Hawks will be no pushover, especially if they continue to excel in long-range shooting.
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Stopping Young: Easier said than done
The Hawks set a franchise record with 20 three-point field goals. They shot 20-for-47 (42.6%). Conversely, the Sixers were 10-for-29 (34.5%).
So the Hawks scored 30 more points on three-pointers than the Sixers. That is a big gap to overcome.
Hawks point guard Trae Young had 35 points and 10 assists. He shot 4-for-11 from beyond the arc. Among his 10 assists, four led to three-pointers.
The problem with dealing with Young is that he is too quick for any one defender, even Ben Simmons. Young can routinely beat one player off the dribble, and when a weakside defender picks him up, that leaves open teammates.
The Hawks have to get credit for hitting the threes, but many of them were open looks. Asked why the Hawks got so many open looks on threes, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said, “Just us trapping and rotating. We absolutely can be better in the way we rotated.”
If the Sixers can hang their hat on anything, it’s that they defended the three much better in the second half. Atlanta was 13-for-23 in the first half (56.6%) and 7-for-24 in the second half (29.2%).
“There are certain threes that we want and we feel we can get if we move the ball,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought we started to settle and take some quick threes that were contested in that second half, which allowed them to get out in transition.”
Young also seemed to wear down in the second half. He played 39 minutes, 1 second for the game, including 21:07 in the second half. Plus, his minutes are exhausting ones, as he often has multiple defenders sent his way.
So both teams will adjust. The Hawks aren’t as good a three-point shooting team as they showed in the first half and not as bad as they were in the second.
“The best thing that happened today was that we won,” Young said. “We have a lot of things we can get better at.”
So do the Sixers, beginning with defending Young and not allowing him to dribble so freely on the court, setting up his own shot and those of his teammates.
The Inquirer unveiled its live blog of the Sixers game. The blog began pregame and lasted until the key postgame interviews. It will be part of every Sixers playoff game.
Can you imagine playing a Wednesday matinee playoff game? Mark Perner writes about the time it happened between the Sixers and Hawks more than four decades ago, and he was in the building. Inquirer writers Ed Barkowitz and Joe Juliano were also part of this unusual and fun story by Perner.
This is the Sixers’ fourth straight season in the playoffs, where they have advanced to the second round each year. The previous three seasons ended in this round, as we review.
Keith Pompey writes that Simmons would like to be the primary defender on Young moving forward.
Pompey also writes that Sixers assistant Sam Cassell is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the Boston Celtics’ head-coaching job.
Not much in reserve
Rivers has a lot of areas to improve for Game 2, and he has to add the bench to his to-do list.
What was interesting was that not a single Hawks starter had a positive plus-minus rating for the game. The best starter was Bogdon Bogdanovic, who was at zero.
The Hawks five reserves were a combined plus-57, led by former Sixer Lou Williams, who was plus-16. Meanwhile, the six Sixers reserves were a combined minus-67. The Hawks’ bench outscored the Sixers’ reserves, 34-23.
Tyrese Maxey continues to bring energy and excitement for the Sixers off the bench, but he shot just 2-for-8.
Rivers had an all-reserve lineup to begin the second quarter of Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, George Hill and Dwight Howard.
The Sixers coach explained that he went with his starters longer than he wanted in the first quarter because the Sixers got down so quickly. They trailed, 42-27, after one quarter.
Eastern Conference semifinal series vs. Atlanta Hawks
Tuesday: Game 2, 7:30 p.m. Wells Fargo Center, TNT
Friday: Game 3, 7:30 p.m., State Farm Arena, ESPN
Monday, June 14: Game 4, 7:30 p.m., State Farm Arena, TNT
Wednesday, June 16: *Game 5, TBD, Wells Fargo Center, TNT
Friday June 18: *Game 6, TBD, State Farm Arena, ESPN
Sunday, June 20: *Game 7, TBD, Wells Fargo Center, TBD
Passing the rock
Question: The Hawks had difficulty with the full court pressure. Will Doc utilize that and come after them? How about Thybulle or Simmons guarding Trae Young? — Ron Powell on Facebook
Answer: Thanks for the questions, Ron. I think Doc will utilize pressure, but he has to pick his spots. He can’t do it the entire game. In addition, the more Young sees it, the better he will be at combating it. At first he had trouble when the Sixers began trapping him near midcourt, but he did adjust.
As for the defenders, both Matisse Thybulle and Ben Simmons spent time guarding Young, but I would expect Simmons to get more time on him in Game 2. According to NBA.com stats, Thybulle had 2 minutes, 12 seconds of matchup defense minutes on Young. The Atlanta point guard shot 4-for-6, including 1-for-3 from three, in scoring 11 points against Thybulle. Simmons had only 1:28 of matchup time defending Young, who shot just 0-for-1.
Those numbers suggest more Simmons, although it will be a challenge to stay out of foul trouble while trying to deal with Young.