When it comes to competing with the 76ers in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Atlanta Hawks have some tall concerns.
From Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and even Dwight Howard having their way down low, to Simmons’ defense with a 9-inch height advantage on 6-foot-1 Trae Young, the Hawks have had difficult combating the Sixers’ length.
With the Sixers up two-games-to-one heading into Monday’s Game 4 in Atlanta, Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said that he would go back to the drawing board. Yet, no matter what he does schematically, there is still the problem of dealing with a team that appears too big and too physical for the Hawks.
“I think their size has had an impact on this series,” McMillan said following Friday’s 127-111 loss to the Sixers. “Guarding these guys in the post, you got Simmons 6-10 posting up, you got Harris who is a real good post player, and you have Embiid with Howard down there in the paint, so [we will] try to change it up and look at some different combinations.”
McMillan tried mixing things up. In the third quarter, he started Tony Snell for who has been an effective Solomon Hill at small forward. Yet both players are 6-6, so it didn’t help with the size disadvantage.
One gets the impression that the Hawks will make changes for Game 4, but it’s not like they can inherit a 7-footer to help deal with the Sixers’ length.
“Everything will be on the table as far as how we come out and play because their size is a factor,” McMillan said. “I thought they pretty much pounded us in the paint [Friday] and we will see if we can make adjustments.”
The Sixers outscored the Hawks, 66-58, in the paint on Friday.
Embiid has been dominant, averaging 35.3 points in 35.5 minutes during the three games, but his presence on the offensive end goes beyond simply scoring.
“That is a big screen Embiid is setting and we are not getting through that screen,” McMillan said. “We are getting hit on that screen and have to work harder to get through those screens and try to keep the ball in front. It was like a downhill game for us, where they were turning the corner on those screens.”
Young, the one Hawk who can consistently create his own shot, agrees with McMillan when it comes to dealing with the Sixers’ size.
“I think they are obviously a great defensive team because of their length and guys they have around,” Young said. “When you have guys with long arms and taller guys, it is going to make it more difficult.”
Yet Young, who is averaging 28 points in the three games, says that should be no excuse for the Hawks’ struggles.
“It is not anything we can’t handle or adjust to and correct going into Game 4, but it is something we have to get better at, taking care of the ball. I had a lot of turnovers early and we have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”
The Hawks only had 11 turnovers on Friday. What hurt more was that the Sixers didn’t allow the Hawks to get in transition. That meant that Atlanta had to muck it up in a half-court setting, which is tough to do against a bigger, more physical team.
Atlanta had just six transition points on Friday and has been outscored 51-25 in fast-break points for the series.
“It really starts on the defensive end of the floor; we’ve got to get stops so we can try to get out in transition and get some easy baskets and play against a set defense the majority of the game,” McMillan said. “I think that is where it starts for us.”
That sounds good on paper, but if the Sixers don’t allow that, then Atlanta will simply have to do a better job combating the Sixers’ length, a difficult task for sure.