What to Watch for in Sixers vs Hawks: Game Four

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Furkan Korkmaz (30) drives to the basket 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)

Now holding a 2-1 series lead, the Sixers and Hawks will tip off game four in Atlanta for what will be a pivotal game in the series. For the Hawks, this is a must-win as they will otherwise be down 3-1 before traveling to Philadelphia with the and forced to win three in a row. For the Sixers, winning two straight would go a long way to them securing their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals and would allow them to wrap the series up in a quick fashion and secure some extra rest time.

Morale appears to be low on the Atlanta side of things as the Sixers have won the past two games by an average of 16 points and have looked to be outmatched by Philadelphia. The Sixers were the favorites coming into this series and they have proved exactly why. The team has maintained an all-business attitude and expects them to look to take control tonight.

Who Do the Sixers Start?

The biggest storyline to watch is who Doc Rivers decides to put in the starting lineup. Following the calf injury to Danny Green, the Sixers will be forced to make an adjustment and give more minutes to one of the bench players. This is a major loss to the Sixers as Green ranks second on the team in minutes played, and has started 69 regular-season games and all 8 playoff games so far this season. His floor-spacing ability, solid team defense, and veteran leadership will be missed and the Sixers will hope to get him back as soon as possible.

The frontrunner for the starting spot seems to be Furkan Korkmaz who would provide the team with a similar floor-spacing ability. The 6’7 wing is coming off a solid performance in the previous game where he scored 14 points and ended with a team-high +24 rating. While he is known for his offensive ability, Korkmaz was also very impactful on the defensive end in the previous game. His length proved to be an advantage in matching up with Kevin Huerter (who Seth Curry was previously guarding) and the Hawks guard was held to just 3 points despite scoring 15 and 20 points in the previous two matchups.

Doc Rivers has been known to keep these decisions fairly close to the vest and it is unlikely that the replacement will be announced until shortly before game-time. While riding with the hot hand and putting Korkmaz seems to make sense, this is not guaranteed. Expect Shake Milton, George Hill, Matisse Thybulle, and even Tyrese Maxey to get some consideration for the new role.

Success on stopping Trae Young:

The key to shutting down the Hawks starts and ends with Trae Young. Following the game one loss, the Sixers made a key adjustment in putting Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle on the Hawks superstar as much as possible. This has proved to be very successful as in the past two games Young has averaged 24.5 points and shot 45.4% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc.

These are still very impressive numbers but he has been as much of a non-factor as possible for a player of Young’s talent. The Hawks simply do not have enough scoring firepower if Young is not at his best and they will need a heroic (or villain-like) effort from the 22-year-old.

One reason in favor of leaving Matisse Thybulle on the bench for this game is so he can provide a change-of-pace look in defending Young. Giving Thybulle the start would it more difficult to stagger the minutes to ensure that Trae Young faces an NBA all-defense quality matchup every second he is on the floor. While it has not served to be a major issue yet, both Simmons and Thybulle must focus on staying out of foul trouble as the former Oklahoma product continues to seek out contact and make his way to the line. It is worth noting that Thybulle fouled out in just 17 minutes of play in game three. The Sixers’ defensive stopper continues to speak about improving on his discipline and game four will an opportunity to put this on display given the extra available minutes due to Green’s injury.

Joel Embiid’s Status Overall Thoughts:

Momentum certainly feels as if it is on the Sixers’ side and they should look to continue to ride this in game four. Given the injury battles of Joel Embiid, finishing off each series as soon as possible and securing the maximum amount of rest is extremely important. The toughest stretch of the playoff run is still yet to come and gaining a 3-1 lead in this series would help the Sixers to put themselves in the best possible position.

It is worth noting that Embiid continues to be listed as questionable before each game and has to go through his pregame workout and evaluation before officially being given the green light. The MVP candidate has been seen wincing and limping multiple times each game but his toughness and will to win appear too strong to keep him off the court.

While he deservingly gets so much credit for his on-court success, it is important to note how much Embiid does off the court for the Philadelphia community. During tonight’s game, Embiid will be hosting a watch party at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission which is one of the homeless shelters that the Sixers’ star has donated money. Embiid was recently named one of the finalists for the 2020-21 NBA Cares Community Assist Award for his continued dedication in helping the homeless shelters across Philadelphia.

The Sixers are listed as 3 point favorites in this matchup and if all goes well this could be the last game played in Atlanta. The game will tip off at 7:30 and be played on TNT. This game will be looked at as a major challenge to the Hawks as be a test to their mental toughness. Trae Young will need to step up and prove that the team still has some fight in them if they hope to have a chance in the series.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire