During the 76ers’ 128-124 loss to the visiting Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Sunday, the Sixers had few early answers for point guard Trae Young. He scored 25 of his 35 points in the first half when the Hawks led by as many as 26 points.
The Sixers made a furious comeback, but the young Hawks were able to hold on.
Now as the teams prepare for Game 2 on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, the second-guessers continue to have a field day, wondering why coach Doc Rivers didn’t put 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons, a finalist for NBA defensive player of the year, on the 6-1 Young more often.
Simmons was on Young for a limited amount of time. According to NBA.com matchup stats, Simmons defended Young for just 1 minute and 28 seconds. The Atlanta point guard went scoreless, shooting 0-for-1 against Simmons.
Young had most of his success against Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle. Against Green in 7:02 of matchup minutes, Young scored 19 points, shooting 5-for-9, including 2-for-4 from deep and 7-for-7 from the foul line.
Against Thybulle in 2:13, Young scored 11 points, shooting 4-for-6, including 1-for-3 from deep and 2-for-2 from the foul line.
“We got to rotate better, limit him, keep him out of the paint as much as we can, try to be physical smartly without fouling him, which is going to be tough to do,” Green said Monday about Young.
In the beginning of the second half, Simmons began guarding Young but picked up two fouls within the first three minutes.
That is always the risk of putting Simmons or any player on Young because the third-year Atlanta guard has a great ability to draw fouls. In his first six playoffs games this season, Young is averaging 7.7 free-throw attempts, which entering Monday was 10th in the NBA. During the regular season he averaged 8.7 attempts. In Game 1 against the Sixers he hit all nine of his foul shots.
“Ben wasn’t on him a lot,” Rivers said following Monday’s team film session. “We like Ben on Trae, we don’t like him on him all game. Trae does a great job of drawing fouls.”
Simmons, himself, said after the game that he would like to be the primary defender on Young.
Reading between the lines, just about everybody expects more Simmons on Young. Atlanta interim coach Nate McMillan addressed the issue after the Hawks practice on Monday.
‘I think they have a number of really good defenders on that team, Simmons is certainly one of them,” McMillan said. “Simmons guarded Trae a couple of times [Sunday], and I think he picked up a quick foul or two guarding Trae so he is definitely one of the top defenders, and we could see him on Trae.”
Joel Embiid, who returned to score 39 points on Sunday after missing Wednesday’s first-round closeout game with the Washington Wizards on Wednesday with a small meniscus tear in his right knee, got a good report on Monday from Rivers.
“We didn’t do much today but just my observation without being a real medical doctor is that he looked pretty good and we were happy with everything,” Rivers said.
Embiid is listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game on the official NBA injury report.
“I think after each game he is going to be evaluated for a while, now I don’t know how long that lasts,” Rivers said. “It may be three, four, five games, but we’re still not out of the woods, I guess would be the best way to describe it.”
Hunter also questionable
Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter, who started all five playoff games in the first round against the New York Knicks, but missed Game 1 with right knee soreness, will be a game-time decision, according to McMillan. Hunter, who is listed as questionable, didn’t go through Monday’s workout but did do some shooting, according to McMillan.
Rivers fourth in coach of the year vote
Rivers finished fourth in the NBA’s coach of the year voting that was announced on Monday. Tom Thibodeau of the New York Knicks was the winner. Phoenix head coach Monty Williams and Utah’s Quin Snyder, were second and third respectively.
Thibodeau, Williams and Snyder are all former Sixers assistant coaches.
A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote three, and third place one.
Thibodeau edged Williams, 351-340. Snyder had 161 points, while Rivers earned two first-place, two-second place and eight third-place votes for 24 points.
During Rivers’ first season in Philadelphia, the Sixers finished 49-23 and earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.