In what was truly a game of two halves, the Sixers found a way to escape to a 26-point lead and then slowly but surely choke it in what will go down as one of the most infuriating choke-jobs in recent memory In fact, it’s the third biggest collapse in a 25-year run of NBA playoff games.
For anyone who has followed the Sixers through the process era, the whole ‘bursting out to a huge lead and choking it’ is an old Achilles Heel insistent on rearing its ugly head. However, the appointment of Doc Rivers magically swept those old memories away. The team matured and with a deep bench rotation were able to hold on to leads as the second half progressed, taking pressure away from the starters and building a complete picture. Somehow, some way, that progress has been ripped away.
The Sixers suffered one of their uglier losses in recent memory in Game Four on the back of an offensive stagnation. In need of a huge bounce-back, the team actually started out hitting all the right buttons. Joel Embiid, who was questionable leading up to the game with a lingering knee injury, exploded for 17 first quarter points, surging the Sixers into a position of comfort. He looked menacing. The Cameroonian wasn’t going to be denied and all the stars were aligning for a career-night…until they weren’t.
Whack-a-ben started early, with the Hawks doing everything they can to slow down the Sixers and at least give themselves some kind of lifeline. Ben Simmons’ now 32.8% FT percentage this postseason provided just enough of an opening for someone like Trae Young to burst through.
As the second half progressed, Trae Young only became more dangerous. He ended the night on 39 points, and after helping his team claw back 4 points in the third quarter, decided to turn on the afterburners and punish a Sixers team who were caught napping. For context, the Sixers still had a 25 point lead with less than 4 minutes to go in the third quarter. That would soon change.
While poor shot selection and a level of complacency haunted the Sixers, the Hawks refused to give up. You can’t fault their hustle and effort to get up off the ground and fight back after falling so far back so early. As soon as they had some mild momentum, the foundations started to wobble. Joel Embiid’s threat on the inside slowly deteriorated as his energy dropped, Tobias Harris struggled immensely, ending the night on just 4 points, and the offensive limitations of Ben Simmons were circled in red and feasted on. Only two players scored field goals for the Sixers in the second half.
Trae Young took over offensively as the Hawks started to taste blood in the water and before you know it, it was as if the Sixers threw the offensive script out of the window and were just playing like a teenager panicking during a game of MyTeam on NBA 2k21. It was the same shot attempts being taken over and over again with little success, while a defensive identity was all but a pipe dream. The Sixers had no way to slow the game down, stop Trae Young from wreaking havoc, or more importantly, prevent the Hawks from dominating inside the paint.
Somehow, some way, Doc Rivers continues to blow playoff games and series. Somehow, some way, the Sixers continue to soar to incredible leads and slowly fall back down to earth in catastrophic fashion. This was supposed to be the postseason fans had dreamed of since 2001. Instead, it’s turning out to be the postseason fans have had nightmares about since the dawn of the process era.
Now one game away from elimination, here’s to hoping they can rekindle some of their once dominant energy before Friday night.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire