Good morning, 76ers fans. It seems like so long ago when the Sixers and Hawks last played. It was Tuesday, when the Sixers evened their best-of-seven series at one game apiece with a 118-102 victory.
Both teams are well rested, with Games 3 and 4 in Atlanta, where the Hawks won both of their first-round games against the New York Knicks. The Hawks were also 25-11 at home in the regular season.
While the Sixers have designs on a deep playoff run, they haven’t had similar success in earning individual awards this NBA season, something that could be a chip-on-the-shoulder motivation.
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)
Runners-up for now
Doc Rivers compares winning major NBA awards to winning championships. The 76ers coach reasons that sometimes one has to come close to winning before actually snaring the prize.
The Sixers were the No. 1 team during the regular season, winning the Eastern Conference with a 49-23 record. They have not been as successful during the individual awards.
First, Joel Embiid finished runner-up in the MVP voting to Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Then on Wednesday, Ben Simmons finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year Award voting to Utah’s Rudy Gobert, who won for the third time.
“I was disappointed Joel didn’t win the MVP, but I thought, you think of Joker [Jokic] and what he has done all year and played in the amount of games he played in, he is the worthy winner,” Rivers said after practice Thursday.
Jokic played in all 72 games for the Nuggets, and Embiid played in 51 for the Sixers.
Rivers then talked about Simmons.
“I feel the same way about Ben; you know Ben missed a ton of games as well,” Rivers said.
Simmons missed 14 games. Gobert missed just one.
Rivers then mentioned the biggest positive for both Embiid and Simmons.
“What I love about both is last year, the last couple of years, they weren’t mentioned in either one of those categories and now they are on the board,” Rivers said.
Getting on the board, so to speak, is a big part of the game, especially at their age. Embiid turned 27 in March, and Simmons will turn 25 next month.
“And with their youth and growth that we anticipate, I do think in the future, in the near future, Ben will be defensive player of the year and Joel will be MVP,” Rivers said.
Then Rivers gave his award theory.
“A lot of times, you have to have an MVP season the year before, before you become MVP,” Rivers said. “The same with any of these awards.”
It also must be noted that despite the Sixers’ position in the Eastern Conference, Rivers placed fourth in the Coach of the Year voting.
One difference is that Rivers already had been named coach of the year, in 2000 with the Orlando Magic. He fully expects each of his two stars to join him as an award winner in the not-too-distant future.
David Murphy and Karla Ovalle break down Embiid’s playoff statistics and conclude if he keeps playing at this pace, it will go down as one of the greatest individual playoff performances of all time.
The Sixers bench is a game-by-game rotation. For instance, Shake Milton played 38 seconds in Game 1 vs. Atlanta and had 14 much-needed points in Game 2.
Ed Barkowitz, in his usual fact-filled style, gets you ready for Game 3 with 12 things you need to know.
Keith Pompey writes that Embiid knows now is not the time for the Sixers to celebrate vs. the Hawks.
The Sixers have been dominating the Hawks in points in the paint.
Who will come out with a sense of urgency?
Nate McMillan couldn’t explain the reason for the Hawks’ rough start in Tuesday’s 118-102 loss to the 76ers. The Hawks’ interim coach said his team lacked fire to start the game, and the statistics suggest he was correct.
The Hawks trailed, 33-20, after the first quarter and were outscored by 24-10 in points in the paint. The Sixers shot 15-for-25 (60%).
“I thought as a team we didn’t come with that sense of urgency,” McMillan said Thursday after practice. “… Defensively, we never established ourselves.”
The points in the paint really bugged McMillan.
“They had 24 points in the paint in the first quarter, so we were taking the ball out of the net and I felt we were walking the ball down the floor and playing a possessions game,” McMillan said. “So we never really established ourselves at either end of the floor, and offensively I felt we played too slow that last game.”
McMillan insisted his team wasn’t complacent after a 128-124 win in Game 1 earned them the home-court advantage.
“It definitely wasn’t complacency that we were thinking that we had this or anything like that,” McMillan said. “I thought they came out and hit us as we hit them in the first game and they got easy baskets, easy points.”
In the first game, the Hawks did punch the Sixers in the mouth in the opening quarter, taking a 42-27 lead. Atlanta shot 16-for-22 (72.7%), including 6-for-12 from beyond the arc in the quarter.
Rivers said his team wasn’t ready to play in the opening of Game 1. So in two games, each team lacked urgency at the opening tap, which in the playoffs seems hard to fathom.
Hawks forward John Collins also had a difficult time explaining the lack of urgency at the start of Game 2.
“Not to say it lost us the game, but when you come out slow like we did, it makes it tougher for us,” said Collins, who had five points in the first quarter of Game 1 and zero in Game 2. “I felt like we weren’t necessarily just all locked in and ready to compete as they were, but it is just something that happens in basketball and something we have to fix. I think it is an easy fix for us, and nothing we that have to change game-plan-wise, so I feel like we should be able to take care of that.”
Eastern Conference semifinal series vs. Atlanta Hawks
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: I’m not a Ben hater. I think he is an outstanding player. (Tuesday) however, he looked really out of it. He barely touched the ball on offense. What is going on with him? Was he totally absorbed trying to stop Trae Young? — James Bolno from Facebook
Answer: Thanks for the question, James. We got several just like that wondering about Simmons’ lack of offense.
I think you are onto something, that he was concentrating so much on defense that he let his offense go. Many people, myself included, feel that he can do both. In 29 career playoff games, Simmons is averaging 10.3 field-goal attempts. Against Atlanta, it is 5.0 Most people forget that he was 7-for-7 from the field in Game 1, since it was overshadowed by his 3-for-10 foul shooting.
I have found that when Simmons is not shooting free throws well (which basically has been for most of his career), he isn’t as aggressive going to the basket. That said, he has to be able to take more than the three shots he attempted in Game 2.
So I feel he is concentrating more on shutting down Young, but also is worried about foul shooting and thus is less aggressive looking for his shot.