Last night, the Sixers put on a clinic, beating the Hawks by nearly 20 points to tie the series up 1-1. One of the biggest reasons the team was able to bounce back after a sluggish start to the series was their vaunted defensive efforts against Hawks star Trae Young.
Young, who scorched the Sixers to the tune of 35 points and 10 assists to open the series, was largely silent in Game 2. Unlike the previous game, the Sixers didn’t leave Danny Green on an island to handle Young alone. Instead, Philly got creative with their defensive sets, often trapping or doubling the explosive point guard.
“Trae wants us to go downhill,” said Sixers HC Doc Rivers. “We felt like switching would at least flatten them out. Even if he beat the first guy, we could be in our help positions..and I think that had an impact for us.”
The increased defensive attention certainly impacted Young. In 38 minutes of play, Young scored just 21 points while shooting 6-16 from the floor. After abusing Danny Green and erupting for nearly 40 points, Young wasn’t nearly as efficient against Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle.
Across 33 possessions defended by either Ben Simmons or Matisse Thybulle in Game 2, Young could only muster 13 points. Additionally, Danny Green was only tasked with defending him two times, highlighting the major adjustments made from the previous game.
“We had energy and from the beginning of the game to the end,” Tobias Harris said postgame. “We executed our game plan. We were one of the best teams all year in terms of adapting and adjusting. I feel like tonight you saw that.”
Simmons and Thybulle were relentless in their pursuit of Young, hounding him all game as they chased him around the perimeter. Watch how they trap him to block this three-point attempt.
Here, watch how Thybulle cuts off Trae and feeds him into Embiid in the post for the stop. Plays like this are a huge reason the Sixers were so successful.
Wrongfully called for a foul, note how Thybulle sticks to his hip every step of the way before elevating for the SWAT. Just one more example of his defensive ability.
Simply put, Philly’s defense did a great job of swarming Trae Young, causing him to force tough shots all game. Limiting him in yesterday’s contest after his explosive Game 1 speaks to the focus and game planning of the team. The ability to adjust on the fly, especially so adequately, is a skill that will serve the Sixers well in the postseason. Their resiliency was encouraging to see as they shook off a sloppy Game 1 performance to tie the series up.
More importantly, they may have discovered a defensive scheme to slow Trae Young- one centered around Ben Simmons, “I thought Ben played terrific defense,” Rivers said. “And he did it without fouling.”
Unlike in the series opener when he got into early foul trouble, Simmons was able to play freely and aggressively against Young. His efforts were the driving force behind Young’s quiet night and should be the plan of attack moving forward.
With the series now tied, the Sixers must maintain that same level of energy in defending Young, especially on the road. It will be easier said than done, but with the blueprint already drawn in Game 2, the Sixers hope to negate for the rest of the series.