Good morning, Sixers fans, and welcome to the second round of the NBA playoffs. After disposing of the Washington Wizards in five games, the Sixers next face a young, spry Atlanta Hawks team.
Joel Embiid’s availability remains the big story. Embiid, listed as day to day with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, was sidelined for Wednesday’s clinching 129-112 win over the visiting Wizards.
The Hawks will travel to Philadelphia for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Sixers on Sunday with supreme confidence.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @SJnard. Thank you for reading.
— Marc Narducci (email@example.com)
Hawks look to build on their first-round win
Like the 76ers, the No. 5-seeded Hawks won their first-round, best-of-seven series in five games, clinching it Wednesday with a 103-89 win over the No. 4 New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
For many of the Hawks’ main players, it was their first playoff series, but there were no signs of postseason jitters, beginning with winning Game 1 in New York, 107-105.
While this is the Sixers’ fourth straight year in the postseason, it is Atlanta’s first time since the 2017. That Hawks team, for which current Sixers backup center Dwight Howard averaged 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds in the regular season, lost to the Wizards in six games in the opening round.
How green were the Hawks entering this year’s playoffs? Only one starter, center Clint Capela, had ever played in a playoff game. Capela has appeared now in 66 postseason games, more than three times the total of the other four starters combined.
This was the first playoff series for guards Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic and forwards John Collins and De’Andre Hunter, the second-year player and Friends’ Central alum.
There was a lot of noise that the Hawks had to endure. From the first game, the MSG crowd was yelling profane chants at Young, who silenced the throng several times in the series, beginning in Game 1 when he scored the game-winning basket on a runner with 0.9 seconds left in a 107-105 win.
In addition, a fan was ejected after spitting at Young during Game 2, a 101-92 Knicks home win.
Wednesday, after Young hit a three-pointer to increase the lead to 101-89 with 43.7 seconds left, he bowed to the MSG crowd.
“It feels good that we were able to finish the series,” Young said in his Zoom interview afterward. “That is really all it was. I am happy to be able to finish off the series and go into the second round.”
Before Game 5, Capela put himself on the line by making a bold guarantee.
“Now we’re coming to your home to win this game again and send you on vacation,” Capela said in his message to the Knicks.
Capela then backed up his boast with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots in the series clincher.
“I meant it, and I knew I would not be wrong about it,” Capela said after the game. “We showed the last four games we have the kind of character, that type of team, and I believe we were capable to come here and get the win and we did it.”
Often when a young team wins a first playoff series, it feels like it is playing with house money the rest of the way. Not so with the Hawks.
“Winning feels good. It feels better. I feel a lot better because we are winning,” said Young, who averaged 29.2 points and 9.8 assists in the Knicks series. “I am such a competitor, I want to win so much that this feels good.”
Young exudes confidence, feeling that the Hawks are just getting started.
“I am not satisfied just getting to the second round, where we are,” Young said. “I know what this team is capable of, and like I have been saying all year, we have a squad all year that can surprise a lot of people, but we are not going to surprise ourselves because we know what we are capable of.”
Keith Pompey writes that Ben Simmons knows his playoff triple-double didn’t shake off some Sixers fans who don’t like him.
In the absence of Embiid, Marcus Hayes writes that Doc Rivers was successful having the Sixers play small ball in the series clincher against Washington, led by Seth Curry and Ben Simmons.
Stacy Burling explains what a meniscus tear is and addresses the question of how long it will be before Embiid can play again.
David Murphy writes that the Sixers have some reasons to believe they can win without Embiid. Mostly, they have no other option.
Sixers-Hawks in the playoffs: First time since ‘82
This will be the first time the Sixers and Hawks have met in the playoffs since the 1981-82 season. It was so long ago that there was a different playoff format. That season, teams played best-of-three series in the first round.
The Sixers eliminated the Hawks in two games.
The Sixers started the playoffs with a 111-76 rout at home. Darryl Dawkins had a monster game: 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 blocked shots. Only two three-point shots were attempted during the game, both by the Hawks, who missed them both. John Drew led the Hawks with 18 points.
Playoff fever must not have hit Philadelphia. Attendance was just 11,250.
The Sixers then clinched the series with a 98-95 overtime win at Atlanta. Julius Erving had 28 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, missing the only three-point attempt the Sixers took.
Dan Roundfield had 29 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Hawks, who drew just 8,703.
After that, all series were best-of-seven that postseason. The Sixers beat Milwaukee in six games and then defeated the Celtics in seven to win the Eastern Conference title. In the NBA Finals, the Sixers lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Eastern Conference semifinals
Sunday: Game 1: Atlanta Hawks at Sixers, 1 p.m., Wells Fargo Center.
(The NBA has yet to release the schedule for the rest of the series.)
Passing the rock
Question: What was Rivers hoping that playing Simmons at center would help in the next round? — Leonard Kelz on Facebook
Answer: Thanks for the question, Leonard. No, Rivers wasn’t thinking about the next round when he started Ben Simmons at the five. He was trying to eliminate the Wizards. Now moving forward, the Sixers will almost assuredly continue with this strategy if Embiid isn’t able to play.
The Sixers finished with 16 fastbreak points in Game 5. They had just seven in Game 4, a 122-114 loss. With Simmons at center, the Sixers are faster up and down the court. They don’t have to wait for Embiid to set up their offense.
Now, the slower pace is an inconvenience the Sixers would take given the total dominance of Embiid, but with him out, playing faster is the way to go, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a faster center than Simmons.
Have a question? Send to @sjnard or firstname.lastname@example.org.