ATLANTA — The 76ers will tell you it was all about the basics.
They used the same methods Doc Rivers has preached since training camp on the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. And it led to a 127-111 victory Friday night.
The Sixers have a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 will be 7:30 p.m. Monday in Atlanta.
The win came despite Joel Embiid playing in a lot of pain.
The Sixers center played in his third consecutive game with a small meniscus tear in his right knee. A game-time decision Friday night, Embiid twisted his left ankle in the second half and was in obvious pain the final two quarters. However, the league MVP runner-up gutted it out as the Hawks tried to make a late run.
“I’m OK,” Embiid said about his ankle. “I’m standing up. I’m walking. I finished the game. So I’m going to keep getting back up. I’m going to keep fighting.
“That’s been me since I started playing basketball. So I’m going to keep fighting. That’s been my motto, ‘Whatever happens, get back up and keep it going.’ ”
Embiid had his lowest scoring game of the series, finishing with 27 points after averaging 39.5 points in the first two games. But a lot of his reduced scoring had to do with his passing to teammates when the Hawks double- and triple-teamed him. Embiid added nine rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks.
In addition to Embiid playing through pain, the Sixers lost Danny Green just 3 minutes, 45 seconds into the game with a right calf strain. The Sixers didn’t give a timeline for how long their starting small forward will be sidelined. However, the 33-year-old veteran could be out for some time. He donned a walking boot on the bench in the second half.
That could be a huge loss for the Sixers, who are 32-6 when all five starters play. Rivers is confident they’ll withstand changes to the starting lineup.
“We will,” the coach said. “We’ve done it all year. It’s just the next guy has to step up. Not sure who that’s going to be yet ....
“I’m not ruling Danny out. But I’m pretty much ruling him out. I doubt if he plays the next game.”
But they still managed to get the win thanks to balanced scoring, solid shooting, and sticking to those basics.
The Sixers had six players score in double digits, dished out 28 assists on 46 baskets, and shot 58.2% from the field.
Philly broke the game open in the third quarter with solid play on both sides of the ball.
The Sixers made their first eight shot attempts to open the quarter, fueling a 19-6 run en route to shooting 63.2% in the quarter. At the same time, they held Atlanta to 27.3% shooting, including going 1-for-6 on three-pointers. Outscoring the Hawks, 34-19, the Sixers took a commanding 95-75 lead into the fourth quarter.
They extended their lead to 22 points. The Hawks got no closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Ben Simmons had a lot to do with the second-half performance by taking the game over in third quarter.
He scored 11 of his 18 points in the quarter, coming on hard drives. He shot 4-for-5 in the quarter after scoring only four points on 2-for-5 shooting in the first 24 minutes.
“We just just thought he passed up too many opportunities in the fastbreak, in the post,” Rivers said of Simmons’ first half. “So we told him we are going to come out and feature him on the post, and be aggressive with the pass first. ....
“He was great for us, you know, exactly what we need with his pace and power. It was great.”
Simmons finished the game with seven assists and four rebounds. In addition, he was the primary defender on Trae Young. The Hawks’ standout point guard had 28 points. However, he was held to two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the decisive third quarter.
“I just tried to push the pace, get in lanes, find my guys, stay aggressive, get to the rim ... and get in some rhythm,” Simmons said. “I think I did a good job in that second half.”
Tobias Harris, who stayed in the game after hitting his head on a sideline camera early in the fourth quarter, had 22 points and eight rebounds. Seth Curry finished with 12 points, while reserve Furkan Korkmaz had a playoff career-high 14 points off the bench after Green was injured.
After the Hawks lost Game 2, the expectation was they would come out with a lot of energy in front of their home crowd. The Hawks had won 13 straight and 19 of their last 21 games, including the postseason, at State Farm Arena.
Rivers was asked before the game if the key to winning would be weathering Atlanta’s storm.
“Nobody ever knows, like, what if they come out and we play great and we weather the storm or what if we come out great and they weather the storm, you know?” he said. “The bottom line is winning the game.”
With that, Rivers said the Sixers’ keys were what they’ve been all year: Get back in transition and take away shots.
The coach believes the playoffs are about getting down to the basics and continuing what they’ve been doing all season.
“And doing it better than the other team,” Rivers said. “So that’s what we are going to be focused on. We are going to be focused on playing the best version of the way we play as powerfully as we can do it.”
The Sixers might have done a solid job of weathering the Hawks’ storm at the start, but, in reality, they took advantage of the Hawks’ first-quarter poor shooting. Atlanta made just 38.1% of its shots.
Bogdan Bogdanovic made two of his first three baskets to give the Hawks a 4-0 lead. They went on to miss their next four shots and the Sixers went ahead, 6-4.
Bodganovic responded with a corner three-pointer to give the Hawks a one-point lead. But the Sixers went up 8-7 after Simmons’ dunk. The lead see-sawed for a while before the Sixers went on a 7-0 run to take a 15-11 lead with 3:38 left in the opening quarter.
They went on to take an eight-point cushion into the second quarter. The Sixers shot 57.9% from the field while dealing with the absence of Green, their glue guy.
The Sixers took a 61-56 lead into the half on a night when Embiid had only three first-half shot attempts, making two of them. He had 10 points, making 5 of 6 foul shots.
He had only one turnover in the half and also did a solid job of reading the double- and triple-teams.