ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks are just a bad matchup for the 76ers.
The Sixers have a tough time coping with Atlanta’s youth and athleticism, and that was evident again Thursday night.
The Hawks defeated the Sixers, 127-117, at State Farm Arena. It marked Atlanta’s fourth victory in the last five meetings between the teams.
So why is a struggling Atlanta team such as bad matchup?
“I don’t know,” Ben Simmons said. “If I knew, I would tell you.”
Joel Embiid knows the reason for the loss.
“We weren’t focused, defensively,” the three-time All-Star starter said. "Their pick-and-roll hurt us, especially, because of their point [Trae Young]. He’s such a capable shooter.
“So he puts you in a bind if you are not helping on him. And if you do, they throw a lob, and if you don’t he has a pretty good floater.”
Young did whatever he wanted, finishing with game highs of 39 points and 18 assists. The second-year guard thrived at the foul line, making 18 of 20 shots. The NBA All-Star starter had 14 points and 10 assists in the first quarter and 29 and 11 at the half.
“I’m getting better every day,” Young said of maturation in managing games. "There were times in the game tonight when I was giving the ball up and that’s something that’s going to get better.
“I think I managed the game well from start to finish tonight, and my teammates helped me with that.”
An inability to stop him led the Sixers (31-18) to lose their second straight road game, and eighth in their last 10 away from home. They take a 9-16 road mark into Saturday night in Boston against the Celtics. After that, they’ll remain on the road for key games against the Miami Heat (Monday) and Milwaukee Bucks (Thursday). Those three teams are Eastern Conference contenders
The same can’t be said about the Hawks (13-36), who are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA’s second-worst record.
It didn’t help that Al Horford missed Thursday night’s game with soreness in his left knee. The Sixers power forward sat out for precautionary reasons, said the team. He is likely to play against the Boston Celtics on Saturday at TD Garden.
But the Sixers looked like a sluggish team that didn’t have any answers, especially while trying to defend Young. Their last lead in the game came on Simmons’ foul shots to make it 21-20 with 4 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
By that point, Young had already set the tone. He was one of seven Hawks to score in double figures.
Atlanta rookie forward DeAndre Hunter, a Friends’ Central product, had 15 points. Hawks rookie reserve forward Cam Reddish, from Westtown School, had 12 points.
“If Atlanta does anything, they really can score," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They have a lot of high fliers, a lot of young athletes. ... But you have to guard. I think in general our defense was a C.”
Simmons, who is an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve for the second straight season, paced the Sixers with 31 points and a game-high four steals while playing multiple positions. Fifteen of his points came in the first quarter.
Shake Milton had a career-high 27 points. Embiid had 21 points and 14 rebounds.
The Sixers’ fortunes appeared to turn in a negative way at the conclusion of the half.
They went on a 13-5 run to pull within two points (69-67) on Milton’s three-pointer with 3.7 seconds left.
Things then got interesting when Tobias Harris was called for fouling Young on a three-point heave with 0.5 left. The Sixers argued the call and asked Brown to get the referees to review the call. Harris was even called for a technical foul for arguing the call.
Brown asked the referees for a review after Young made the technical foul shot to give his team a four-point cushion. But after looking at the monitor, the refs ruled that it was too late to challenge a call. That led to Brown’s receiving a technical. Young went on to make the three foul shots to give the Hawks a 73-67 halftime lead.
“That certainly didn’t help,” Brown said. “The call when I was doing what I was doing was shocking to me.”
He pointed out that you normally get 30 seconds to make a challenge.
“And this one, the free throw, they gave him the ball quick,” Brown said. "The challenge you try to use wisely. ...
“We were going to challenge it and we didn’t. We didn’t like the call. And it’s true, like that was not a good moment in the game there.”
Atlanta went on to build a 16-point lead (110-94) on Damian Jones’ alley-oop dunk with 8:04 left in game.
Hawks reserve guard Vince Carter (1,523 games) passed former Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (1,522) for third-place on the NBA all-time games played list. Carter trail Robert Parish ( 1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560).