The 76ers started Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with Danny Green as the primary defender on Trae Young. Ben Simmons guarded Bogdan Bogdanovic.
The tactic didn’t work out too well Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.
Young scored 25 of his 35 points in the first half as the Atlanta Hawks escaped with a 128-124 victory.
Simmons, a finalist for defensive player of the year, was asked if he expects to have that matchup switched in the future? Game 2 is 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Center.
“Yeah, I probably will do that,” he said. “I want to. So, if the refs ain’t going to call so many fouls, I can be physical and be 6-10, then I’ll be 6-10. But we’ll see.”
Simmons was referring to being able to use his 6-foot-10 frame against the 6-1 Young. He drew the assigment at the start of the second half. The Sixers also changed their defense, trapping Young higher, near midcourt. It worked in the beginning, but Simmons picked up two early fouls.
As a result, the Sixers went back to Green and had Matisse Thybulle on him. The Sixers were effective with the trap because they employ long perimeter defenders, who take away the passing lane. Young was held to 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting in the second half.
Atlanta coach Nate McMillan wasn’t surprised Simmons guarded another player.
“We really expected a number of guys to guard Trae,” McMillan said. “They have a lot of defenders over there that do a good job. Their guards are really good on the ball.”
The Hawks knew Simmons would eventually guard Young. But McMillan felt his squad did a solid job of spacing the floor before turning the ball over late.
“We know that Ben is one of their top defenders,” he said. “Eventually, he will see some time on a guy who’s hot.”
But one would assume the Sixers will at least consider making Simmons the primary defender on Young in Game 2.
“Obviously, Trae is very talented,” Simmons said. “He’s crafty and he’s not a selfish player. So he’s going to find his guys when he is open. At the same time, he is looking for his. So a lot of respect to him.
“But I am looking to come in there and see if I can be a little more physical next game and see if the refs are going to let us play a little bit.”
Rivers questions some of the foul calls
Sixers coach Doc Rivers will tell that Green has been good on small guards all season. But Young isn’t just a small guard, he’s a terrific guard, Rivers said.
Make that a terrific guard who drew some aguably questionable fouls on Sunday.
“It’s funny, I thought Ben picked up a couple of fouls that I don’t know,” Rivers said. “He picked up two fouls before playing defense, you know? That was frustrating to see on Trae and then you had to worry about his fouls.”
Rivers challenged a foul called on Thybulle with 1 minute, 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Young pushed off on Thybulle during the play. However, the call stood after being reviewed.
“I’m going to have to get an explantation how that call wasn’t overturned,” he said. “I don’t know what more solid defense you can have. And you know they still give the kid two free throws.
“So we have to check, because it felt to me [that] Trae was the one initiating most of the contact with his hands and pushing off.”
But Rivers added the Sixers were the ones that kept getting fouls called on them.
“Either we’re doing something wrong,” he said, “or we have to figure out how that’s called on him as well.”
As a team, the Hawks committed 26 fouls compared to 22 by the Sixers.
Simmons and Green both had four, while Thybulle finished with two. Young had three.