Sixers fall short of a deep comeback and fall to Hawks in series opener

Tobias Harris
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Tobias Harris (12) looks on during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Game One is now in the books as the Sixers suffered a 128-124 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks were exactly as expected and a 35-point performance and barrage of other three-pointers ultimately sunk the Sixers’ chances. Against what is usually a stingy Philadelphia defense, the Hawks made it look easy to make the extra pass and secure an open shot.

While he was game-time decision leading right up until game-time, Joel Embiid was able to suit up and started for the Sixers. This loss was far from on his shoulders as there were stretches of the game were Embiid was willing the Sixers to stay in. He ended with 39 points and was 14-15 from the free throw line, but it was not enough to overcome the Hawks hot shooting in game one.

First Half:

The good news was that Joel Embiid looked to be himself early on. The 7-footer moved fluidly and had 9 of the Sixers’ first-quarter points and appeared energized from the bell-ringing of Triple H.

The Sixers were well aware that Trae Young would be the focal point of the Hawks’ offense and he proved why early on. Young scored 12 points and added 5 assists in just 9 minutes of play in the first quarter. Danny Green served as the primary defender and Young was simply too quick on his feet for the veteran guard.

The Hawks were knocking down everything early on and shot 72.7% from the field in the first quarter. The Sixers cost themselves multiple possessions having 9 turnovers in quarter one. Doc Rivers stubbornly continued to go to the all-bench unit to close out the first quarter and the Hawks carried a 42-27 lead at the end of the first.

The all-bench unit took the court the begin the second quarter and ultimately resulted in the Hawks extending their growing lead. The Hawks went on a 17-0 run to extend it to a 26 point lead. The Sixers continued to struggle in the second and could not cut the deficit below 20 heading into halftime.

Despite Doc Rivers talking about giving Trae Young many different looks on defense in his pregame media availability, Danny Green continued to be the only consistent matchup for the Hawks star. Young ended the half with 25 points and 7 assists while shooting 4 of 7 from beyond the three-point arc.

Joel Embiid did his best to will the Sixers back into the ballgame scoring 17 points on offense and not hesitating to dive on the ground for loose balls. The Hawks continued to shoot the lights out and ended the half shooting 63.4% from the field and 56.5% from beyond the arc. This was the most points the Hawks have scored in a half in their postseason history and they carried a 74-54 lead into the half.

Second Half

The Sixers’ energy was there in the second half but the shooting simply wasn’t. Ben Simmons began the half on a tear, helping the Sixers to pick up the pace and making an impact on both ends of the floor.

In what was a necessary adjustment, Simmons began the half matched up with Trae Young which made life much more difficult for the Hawks guard. Unfortunately Simmons was tagged with two quick (and extremely questionable) fouls in the half which brought his total up to 3 on the game. This forced Danny Green to switch back on to Young and greatly hurt the Sixers chances of climbing back into the game.

Despite some fight shown by the Sixers, the Hawks continued to control the game and held a 99-83 lead going into the fourth quarter. Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle provided a nice spark off the bench and Matisse did a solid job in his time spent on Trae Young.

It took until under five minutes left in the game for the Sixers to finally dig into the deficit. Swarming defense led by Ben Simmons and Danny Green allowed the Sixers to scratch and claw their way back into the game and even give them a chance of winning at the end. This show of life was great to see but far too late in the game.

Turnovers and disappointing shooting performances ultimately were too much to overcome as the Sixers fell by a score of 128-124. The Sixers turned the ball over a total of 19 times and allowed 28 points off these turnovers. Danny Green was noticeably absent on the offensive end today and shot 0-4 from beyond the arc. As a team, the Sixers missed 11 of their 35 free throws which proved costly.

The fight shown at the end of the game is certainly notable. The Hawks certainly looked rattled and the Sixers made it competitive several times after the game was seemingly over. The Sixers should not be hitting any panic buttons as they are still capable of winning the series, but this was a valuable chance to take control that is now out the window.

Overall Takeaways

All-Bench Lineup Has To Go:

While Doc Rivers has been rightfully showered with praise on his management of the Sixers this season, he has struggled in his execution so far this postseason. While the depth of the Sixers is certainly a positive, the team cannot afford to go to an all-bench unit in these crucial games. This decision to roll with this in the first half allowed the lead to climb far too large and put the Sixers in a terrible spot.

Guys like Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, George Hill, and Furkan Korkmaz all have earned some minutes and can provide positive minutes to the team. However, they could be utilized much better if they are played alongside key starters in a rotational role rather than running their own unit. The Sixers were able to get away with this in the regular season but will continually be punished for the remainder of the playoffs if this adjustment is not made.

Hawks are No Joke:

The Sixers were able to sleepwalk through the first round against a below-average Wizards team but this will not be the case in round two. The Hawks certainly made a statement in this game and proved that they are much more of a legitimate contender than they have been given credit for. The team was exactly as advertised and simply performed better than the Sixers in game one.

Game two will take place on Tuesday and is now a must-win for the Sixers. Doc Rivers said that the Hawks “hit us in the mouth to start the game,” in his postgame press conference and the team will have to be ready in game two. The fight that the Sixers showed at the end should be something to build off, but the team will have to come up with some tactical changes regarding Trae Young prior to game two.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire