How the Sixers can survive elimination in tonight’s clash with the Hawks

NBA: APR 09 76ers at Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS, LA – APR 09: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers reacts to a play against New Orleans Pelicans during a NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA on Apr 09, 2021. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

The Sixers have their backs are against the wall as they travel to an Atlanta down 3-2 in the series. After blowing second-half leads of 18 and 26 points in back-to-back games, the Sixers will need to come up with an answer if they hope to keep their season alive.

It has been clear for the vast majority of this series that the Sixers are the better team. The Hawks were not expected to pose a challenge to the Sixers coming into this series and have overachieved in a major way this season. Despite this, the Sixers have seemingly done everything possible to blow the series and if there is not a change in mentality prior to tip-off the team will be checking into their summer vacations early.

Finding Ways to Score

It seems like it should be common sense, but in order to win the Sixers must score more points than the Hawks. This concept has seemingly been lost on the team and they have made an interesting tactical decision to stop scoring in the 4th quarter in the past two games. In game five, the Sixers were outscored 40-19 in the fourth quarter as the offense simply turned into standing around and watching an exhausted Joel Embiid attempt fadeaway jumpers from the top of the key.

While Embiid should not be free of criticism for continuing to launch ill-advised shots as the offense sputtered, someone else has to be able to step up. Seth Curry has been tremendous all playoffs and without his playoff career-high 36 points, the Sixers would have had no chance in the previous game. Embiid and Curry were the only two Sixers to make a field goal in the second half of the previous game and this is flat-out unacceptable for a team that was looked at as a title contender coming into the playoffs.

This burden falls on everyone but there should be some extra criticism thrown in the direction of Tobias Harris. Despite having a career year where he averaged 19.5 points per game and established himself as one of the team’s “closers,” Harris was non-existent in game five and finished with 4 points in 38 minutes of play. The Sixers will need to get him going early and finding production from Harris is entirely necessary to secure a win.

Doc Rivers Needs to Step Up

While he is not the one attempting shots or making reads on the court, Doc Rivers has been thoroughly outcoached throughout this entire series. His stubbornness to stick to lineups and lack of feel for shifting momentum has been put on full display and this has been a major reason for the Sixers failing to ever put the Hawks away. He has refused to shorten his bench and it was not until he went 4-14 from the free-throw line that Rivers elected to take Ben Simmons out of the previous game. The Hawks gradually climbed their way back with the help of the Hack-a-Simmons strategy and, while it is certainly frustrating that such a drastic adjustment is necessary, Rivers can not just sit back and allow his franchise point guard to brick the game away.

As talented as the Hawks are on the offensive end, they have several holes on defense, and Rivers has not found proper ways to exploit them. Trae Young and Lou Williams were on the court together for 8 minutes and 33 seconds in the 4th quarter of the previous game. Both guys stand just 6’1 and are each a liability on defense. The Sixers were unable to take advantage of these favorable matchups and the Hawks continued to mount their comeback down the stretch despite having two of the worst defenders in the league on the court.

If the Hawks elect to put a lineup with Williams and Young on the court in game six, the Sixers should look to exploit this immediately. Creating isolations for Curry and setting screens to force them to switch onto guys like Tobias Harris should provide the Sixers with free baskets. There needs to be more overall movement in the offense and Rivers should look to call a few sets to set up guys outside of Joel Embiid and get the offense rolling early. Rivers pulled all the right strings in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different beast and the 22-year vet has struggled to adjust.

Sixers must Show some Heart

While the lack of scoring and disappointing individual performances are a bigger contributor to the recent losses, the effort level has been embarrassing. The Sixers have attempted to coast through games and seemed flat for long stretches of time throughout this series. The Hawks have been tougher and outworked the Sixers in just about every game and have shown a determined mindset that the Sixers simply haven’t possessed.

There has been so much talk all season about the goal to compete for a championship. If the Sixers are not able to shake this destructive mindset they will not even qualify for the conference finals. Getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Hawks in the second round would be a massive failure for the Sixers and is likely to trigger some major changes on the roster and within the organization. Each player must be ready to bring 48 minutes of their best effort in order to pick up a difficult away win tonight.

As bad as things have been this series, the Sixers are not out yet. If they play like the team they have shown to be this season, they are certainly capable of winning back-to-back games against the Hawks and advancing to the next round. However, it is greatly concerning the lack of effort that has been seen in this series and it is entirely possible the Sixers do not show up once again. The Sixers have taken several punches from the Hawks in the series, and this is their final chance to show a response. This is a position the team should never have gotten themselves into, but it is up to the Sixers to compete to keep their season alive.

Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire