ATLANTA — So who’s starting for the 76ers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in place of injured small forward Danny Green?
That’s one of the biggest questions heading into Monday 7:30 p.m. matchup against the Atlanta Hawks at the State Farm Arena. It’s also the question coach Doc Rivers eluded during Sunday’s media availability.
“I pretty much know,” Rivers said of who will get the start. “But ‘no’ would be my answer right now.”
Solid veteran two-way player George Hill, sharpshooter Furkan Korkmaz, and standout defender Matisse Thybulle appear to be the leading options to replace Green, who’s sidelined two to five weeks with a Grade 2 right calf strain.
Fully aware that Rivers wouldn’t disclose a name, a reporter asked Rivers what he was looking for specifically in the replacement starter.
Are you looking for balance, someone who can stretch the floor, or an extra defender out there?
“You’re so clever, because with the answer, you can try to figure it out,” Rivers responded. “Good try. So what I’m looking for is a 76er ...
“To be honest, without joking, it is a decision we will have to make on what’s more important, the extra defender or the extra floor spacer.”
That’s why Green will be missed, because he provided both.
When Green suffered the injury on Friday, just 3 minutes, 45 seconds into Game 3, it was Thybulle who got call off the bench. However, Korkmaz was in the starting lineup in the second half.
One of Thybulle’s roles was helping to guard Hawks standout Trae Young. In the past two games, Ben Simmons started as the primary defender on Young before Thybulle would come in and take over.
Rivers is not concerned that bringing Thybulle into the starting lineup would disrupt the team’s defensive rotations.
“You can rotate differently and still have the same guys on at the same time,” Rivers said. “So that’s not a concern for us.”
Danny Green in good spirits and will be missed
Green traveled back to the Philadelphia area to receive treatment on his injured calf.
“So, he’ll be right back with us,” Rivers said, “But, yeah, listen, that’s a tough one just spiritually for the whole team, too, because he’s so important. He says so many good things around our guys. He’s been through every possible playoff situation that he’s such a great voice for us
“That one hurt us, no doubt. You can see when the guys found out when we told them [Saturday]. There’s no doubt that that’s a tough blow for our guys.”
The 12th-year veteran is a great leader with a knack for complementing elite players and winning NBA titles. He helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA title last season, marking Green’s second straight ring and third overall. He also won it with the 2019 Toronto Raptors and the 2014 San Antonio Spurs.
Right now, the Sixers hold a 2-1 advantage over the Hawks in the best-of-seven series.
The conference finals could begin as early as June 21. The NBA Finals will begin July 8.
Assuming Green is out the full five weeks, that would mean he wouldn’t return until Game 5 of the Finals, if the Sixers advance that far.
“He’s in great spirits,” Hill said of his longtime friend. “He’s a tough-minded guy ever since I’ve known him. He’s a competitor. You know, he’s still texting every day. This morning, he still texted and told everybody to take care of business. Do it for him, because he will be back soon.”
Hill added that the Sixers are optimistic about Green’s return and that he’ll do everything in his power to get back to help them win the title.