After splitting the first two games at home, the Sixers will travel to Atlanta with the goal of taking control of the series. The Hawks had a 24-18 record at home this season and won both of their home playoff games against the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.
The Sixers will appear to have their full lineup with Joel Embiid as the only question mark. The Sixers’ superstar continues to battle his knee injury but appears determined to play through the pain. There was an extra day off in between games with the previous game being played on Tuesday, which bodes well for Embiid’s odds to play. The Sixers’ ultimate ceiling as a team falls on the shoulders of the 7-foot Cameroonian so his health will continue to be a storyline to monitor throughout the playoffs.
After being labeled as questionable before being scratched in the first two games, De’Andre Hunter has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason with a lateral meniscus tear. Hunter left the team to travel to LA and underwent surgery on his knee on Tuesday.
This is a major blow to the Hawks as Hunter was the team’s top perimeter defender and also averaged 15 points per game on the offensive end. Hunter served as the team’s primary starter in the time he was available before picking up the injury during the Knicks series. Solomon Hill has served as the team’s starter in his absence who is less of a threat to score and allows the Sixers to gamble more on doubling and trapping Trae Young.
Keys for Sixers:
Control Trae Young:
The Hawks’ offense is extremely reliant on Trae Young and slowing him down continues to be the top priority for the Sixers. It has been a tale of two games in this regard as Young was able to get going early and ultimately drive the Hawks to a victory in the first game. Adjustments were seen in game two as Doc Rivers opened up with Ben Simmons as the primary defender and mixed in a healthy dose of Matisse Thybulle. This proved to be much more successful and kept the Hawks’ star to 21 points.
While Simmons and Thybulle have both been very effective, they must play disciplined defense and avoid foul trouble. Trae Young is masterful at getting to the free-throw line and ranked fourth in the league in free-throw attempts per game during the regular season.
After torching Danny Green in the first half of game one, Ben Simmons switched on to Trae Young to start the second half. The DPOY runner-up picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of the half and was ultimately forced to switch off of him in order to remain in the game and not risk further foul trouble. It is also worth noting that Young has gotten an absurd amount of soft calls in his favor throughout the season and so far this series. Regardless, Simmons and Thybulle must play smart and avoid foul trouble as the Sixers have a much better chance of getting the job done if they can fill the full 48 minutes on the Hawks star.
Punish Trae Young Defensively:
As talented as Trae Young is on the offensive side of the ball, he is a liability on the defensive end. His 6’1 frame can be overpowered on defense and he often shows disinterest in putting in the work on this side of the ball. Doc Rivers had a much better coaching performance in game two and looked to attack this right from the jump. If the Sixers can continue to set screens and force switches that result in Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, or Joel Embiid matching up with Young, they should isolate and exploit this on every matchup.
Sixers Bench Rotation
Doc Rivers also made a key adjustment in game two by eliminating the all-bench lineup. The 16-0 run by the Hawks that occurred while the all-bench lineup was on the floor in game one ultimately proved to be too much for the Sixers to overcome. While the Hawks still had a +5 rating during this stretch in game two, the Sixers kept the lead and at least one starter remained on the court for the entire game.
It will also be interesting to watch how much the role of Shake Milton changes after an explosive 14 point performance in the previous game. The spark he provided changed the game for the Sixers and he became the first bench player to register a point, despite it being late in the third quarter. Milton had struggled the last few weeks of the season and saw his spot slip on the depth chart as a result of this. Riding the hot hand is a fair plan when it comes to role-players, so it will be interesting to see how much Rivers decides to rotate Shake in over guys like Tyrese Maxey or George Hill.
A win in game three would give the Sixers a chance to take full control of the series. The Hawks came in and punched the team in the jaw in game one and the Sixers were unable to respond. In game two, the Sixers looked to be the better team from just about start to finish. Look for them to ride this momentum and prove why they are the better team overall. The Hawks have proven that they need to be taken seriously and the Sixers also need to do an improved job of guarding Bogdan Bogdanovic in order to fully prevent the opposing offense from getting going. Game three will tip-off at 7:30 and will be played on ESPN.
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