So this is what the depleted 76ers are going to be facing when matched with a team that has a much greater advantage in manpower.
With five players out because of health and safety protocol and Ben Simmons among the injured, missing his second straight game with left knee swelling, the Sixers had nine available players during Monday’s 112-94 loss in Atlanta to the Hawks.
The big addition for the Sixers was Joel Embiid, who had missed Saturday’s 115-103 home loss to Denver because of back tightness.
While the Sixers got an initial bump from Embiid and his 16 first-quarter points, they ran out of gas after that. Atlanta took advantage and ran the Sixers into the ground.
The Hawks led by 65-50 at halftime. The most glaring stat was fast-break points, where Atlanta owned a 17-0 advantage by intermission. For the game, Atlanta earned a 21-2 advantage in fast-break points, but the Sixers were a tired team by halftime.
“They really tried to play fast,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of the Hawks.
Against an Atlanta team that had five key players out with injuries but was able to dress 12, the depth proved too much.
“We started out the game hoping we could steal one, but once you saw it wasn’t going to happen, it was about getting guys reps up and down the floor,” Rivers said.
Tyrese Maxey, who scored 15 points against Atlanta after Saturday’s season-high 39-point effort against Denver, didn’t want to use fatigue as an excuse.
“I mean, we got to get back; we were stabbing at the ball,” Maxey said.
Maxey has great stamina, not to mention skill, but the Sixers’ first-round pick from Kentucky eventually wore down, guarding All-Star Trae Young.
When defending Young, it is an arduous evening of fighting through a maze of picks. Young is so difficult to play because his range is unlimited, and if a defender comes up, he can easily blow by for the drive.
One time Maxey went well beyond the three-point line and rejected a long-range attempt.
Still, Young needed less than 26 minutes to record 26 points, eight assists and zero turnovers, and all those screens that big men such as Clint Capela and John Collins set took a toll.
“That is their job. Clint Capela, John Collins, they set wonderful screens and I fought over most of them for the most part, but it is relentless with him,” Maxey said about Young. “He is good at drawing fouls, he is good at what he does, and he makes it hard.”
Just as Denver coach Michael Malone had emptied his bench early in Saturday’s win over the host Sixers, Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce did the same against a team for which he used to be an assistant coach. Capela was the only starter who played in the fourth quarter, with just 2:32. None of Denver’s starters played in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
This was the beginning of a five-game run in seven days for the Sixers. On Tuesday, the Sixers will host the Miami Heat, a team with an even greater manpower shortage. Monday’s NBA injury reported listed eight Heat players out because of health and safety protocols.
Rivers said before the game that he is hoping that Simmons can play on Tuesday but that he can’t guarantee it. Still, the Sixers could actually have a manpower advantage against a Heat team they will host twice in three days.