October 30, 2021
Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris shoots over Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela and forward John Collins in the second quarter.
The Sixers dominated the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, claiming their first statement win of the year in a 122-94 drubbing of last year’s second-round opponent.
• The Sixers had a brutal start to last year’s series against Atlanta, largely thanks to their poor defensive schedule against Trae Young. Without the Ben Simmons card, you might have thought they’d get into trouble on Saturday night, but they were excellent at containing him early in pick and rolls.
They may not have played an inch-perfect defense, but they did Sixers did not allow the Hawks to attempt even a single shot in the first quarter and sent help wherever it was needed in a particular game. When Atlanta attempted to post DeAndre Hunter to take advantage of a size mismatch against Seth Curry, the Sixers just waited for possession before shading help in this way to halt the plan. Joel Embiid handled the tightrope walk well against Young pick-and-rolls, standing just high enough to deter jumpers and staying close enough to his husband to prevent easy praise. And the off-ball work was excellent as the Sixers showed active hands and good rotations away from the heart of the game.
Despite Young’s attempts to foul her – he was successful a couple of times against Tyrese Maxey – Overall, the Sixers played with discipline, forcing the Hawks to string multiple passes each time they had possession in order to achieve a clean look. Some of the best performances they have done in defense this season.
• That was definitely my favorite Tobias Harris game this season, and not necessarily because he dropped shots and some nice ones in traffic Results achieved. Outside of play, Harris did the necessary work to get attention and keep the Sixers from stagnating on offense, and even if he didn’t land on the ball, it resulted in a better looking offense for Philly.
The best Off-ball action is basically the reverse of playing on the wing in soccer – there are times when you’ll make an overlap that doesn’t warrant a pass in your direction and opens up a second run up the middle and a more direct path to the Target. On Saturday, Harris’s break-ins in paint drew eyes and body and freed shooters who stayed on the sidelines. He’s never going to stand out like a JJ Redick running through a maze of screens, but regular cuts to the edge will ease that insult.
Another thing I think got Harris out of Saturday’s game can attribute? The Sixers appear to be a faster team than they had up to this point in the year. Harris ran purposefully across the floor, albeit not with the ball in hand, to get to a place where he could see something that forced the Hawks to make difficult decisions on odd-man breaks. Yes, Harris also produced direct in that game, delivering an efficient 22-11-4 while playing a solid, steady defense against his counterpart John Collins. But the best version of this team will depend on Harris doing more than just shooting, and that’s why a night like this feels a little more important than just scoring a goal.
• Joel Embiid’s touch left him again for longer stretches of this game, with jumpers and layups alike clinking from the edge. But he lined up an excellent sequence in the second quarter, standing on the free-throw line to build a rhythm and send the Sixers into halftime with a good feeling.
Embiid was on Thursday with a greater variety of moves and shots successful than in any other game this season so far. There was a quick blow-by from Clint Capela, a done threesome, some mid-range pull-up jumpers, basically all of the things he showed off at last year’s run at the MVP awards. And he kept Atlanta’s Bigs in foul problems all night, with Clint Capela sneaking into halftime with three fouls and his substitute (Gorgui Dieng) picking up his own pair in eight minutes of the first half.
(The passing game sees in This season, by the way, continued to look better. Embiid wasn’t rewarded for all his passes from doubles teams, but he had a nice prospect in the third quarter that gave Curry a wide open threesome. Steps forward.)
But even if his touch wasn’t there, Embiid’s defense as an organizer and problem solver in the paint was sensational. Young struggled to get a foothold in this game regardless of who was defending him, and a large part of the credit goes to the big guy who stayed easily on his feet and barked at his teammates to get the chess pieces in place for Philadelphia .
For me, this was the best Embiid has seen physically since preseason, and it is probably no coincidence that it came on a night when his availability to him after a series of « playtime decisions » outings has never been questioned. This is still a touch-and-go situation, but if he can move at normal levels and explode things will be very different. Now just do some more freaking shots, big guy.
• A lot of emphasis was placed on what Seth Curry couldn’t or couldn’t stop in game 7 last season to stop Kevin Huerter. Curry started slowly on Saturday night, but when the Hawks got more aggressive in the third quarter as they tried to attack him, the Sixers put Curry more on the offensive, forcing bigger Hawks players to chase him through and around screens.
The end result was that Curry got a lot of neat looks from the middle, with the Hawks basically being helpless to stop him. There will always be a reflex to pull guys who are being teased by the opponent, but the Hawks tried too hard on Saturday to back up that strategy without the results and Curry did more damage by simply continuing his game Offense.
• I’m not sure if Cam Reddish wronged Matisse Thybulle in another life, but he blocked the Norristown native’s shot as if he were having a personal vengeance against him. Thybulle had two blocks in the first half, which would be the defensive highlight of the season for many good players in the league, and both came up against poor Reddish.
The first was a potential three in transition for Reddish, who for his shot and didn’t seem ready for Thybulle to come into the picture. Not only did he get into the picture, he hit the shot back several lines, visibly amused by the game after he made it.
A few minutes later, Reddish was behind the wheel of a pick-and-pop with Gorgui Dieng and seemed to have some natural light in the painted area. Not so quickly, said Thybulle before embarrassing Reddish again:
• Aside from a couple of marginal fouls, I found that Tyrese Maxey understood his job well, without losing sight of his broader responsibilities in the system . Maxey followed Young well enough, offering flashback competitions on floaters and a hand in the face on jumpers, and when he handed Young over to other teammates on Switches, Maxey seamlessly switched roles, marking bigs, and chasing shooters to the line when necessary.
You would surely want to see him more involved in the offensive, as the young security guard will mainly be relegated to the transition attack on Saturday night. But with the Hawks worn out and 20 behind in the fourth quarter, the game briefly turned into the Maxey show, with the young security guard repeatedly coming to the sidelines and killing him for good. Any hesitation about using it beforehand felt good in the flow of the game, as the Sixers mostly got what they wanted regardless of who they ran through aggressively.
And hey, we even have a Maxey chin-up three against the Hawks, which is always a pretty sight.
• The only glaring problem Philadelphia had against the Hawks was the inability to kill possessions on the defensive glass, a problem that’s already been in some this year Play showed up. The Sixers did a hell of a job and done a lot of work to prevent a clean look for Atlanta, but that work was often ruined by inattention on the glass. The Hawks punished her for the mistake and kept the game closer than it should have been for 24 minutes with second chance points.
There isn’t a man to point a finger at. There were times when Embiid should have been better off boxing out and finishing games on his own, but there were also times when he was pulled away from the edge to help defensively just to get the guys in that area to fall asleep on the job.Without Ben Simmons, who is a good rebounder himself, who helps other Sixers look better by simply adding size and being on the ground, the Sixers will have to work harder to finish games as a group. Embiid will no doubt have to be more on their own, but they have to retreat when they have a little back space on the floor, which is mostly the case these days.
• In all honesty, the Hawks try to do things with a deeper one Rotation than figuring out in the playoffs, but this game shows what a crime it was for the Sixers to choke this second round streak. Philly didn’t even shoot very well in that game and it still wasn’t close for most of the night.
• It turns out, « What did Trae shoot? » may not have been the staunch defense of his Game 7 performance that Ben Simmons thought was late June.
• Trae Young doesn’t like this town very much, having got to know him pretty well in seven games in June, and it’s understood somehow, if you watch him. Young is a remarkably talented player who has made some ridiculous passes that Hawks players were not prepared for, and hatred is the ultimate token of respect from an opposing fan base. But there is also the annoying foul-drawing tactic that resulted in loud boos every Saturday night.
By the way, Sixers fans may have to come up with something more creative than making fun of Young’s hair (which I agree is pretty awful). If that’s the best we as a city can throw at this guy, revisit the drawing board.
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