3 things we learned in Sixers’ loss to the Hawks

Philadelphia 76ers center Mo Bamba (7) drives to the basket as Atlanta Hawks guards Bogdan Bogdanovic (13) and Trent Forrest (2) defend during the first of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

On another night that Joel Embiid would be absent for the Sixers, it was up to the rest of the team to try and earn a victory on the road against the Hawks. In a matchup with Atlanta that had numerous lead changes and the largest lead for either team was just eight points, the Sixers fought hard to the end of a tight game.

Passing improvement

Tyrese Maxey has developed a well-rounded game. It is well known that he can score the basketball, but he showed off his passing skills in numerous situations against the Hawks.

Whether he was leading a fast break or orchestrating a half court set, he found teammates open for quality shots. He even put a little razzle-dazzle on a few passes. He had a no-look pass to a streaking teammate in transition, and it was a thing of beauty.

His nine assists were a team-high, while turning the ball over three times. His ability to find cutters and make precise passes to awaiting shooters against the Hawks is a huge reason why they were as competitive as they were despite Joel Embiid missing another game due to a knee injury.

Maxey sixers
Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) drives to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

If his passing instinct and awareness are developed through experience and opportunity, his actual technique can probably be attributed to good coaching and the tutelage of a former teammate.

As unpopular as he might be to Philly fans, the fact that James Harden gave a season and a half worth of basketball knowledge to Maxey is significant. And although the Sixers lost, it is promising that Maxey continues to take leaps in other parts of his game. Refining his floor-general skills and executing those duties will pay dividends as the season goes on and when the playoffs arrive.

Sixers haunted by bad calls

In a tight game, possessions and plays matter even more. Ultimately, in last night’s game, it didn’t just come down to player performance. There were two questionable calls that probably had Sixers fans yelling at the TV.

Late in the fourth quarter with the Sixers trying to secure a win, Tyrese Maxey drove to the basket while being guarded by Trae Young. The Hawks point guard swiped at the ball, which hit Maxey’s leg and proceeded to go out of bounds. The replay shows that Maxey was fouled on the hand. The refs called it otherwise.

The Sixers lost a chance to win the game in regulation, and the game went to overtime. Ironically, Maxey and Young were involved with another controversial play in the extra period.

Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) battles Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum (40) and Paul Reed (44) for a rebound during the first of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

This time it was in the reverse. Maxey was guarding Young, where Maxey was called for a foul. Young drove the lane as he usually does while trying to initiate contact. Maxey played his man by the textbook and absorbed contact without pushing Young while keeping his hands in the air. The uproar on Sixers Twitter was palpable.

The refs got that one wrong, too. 

Embiid out and another loss

The Sixers lost again without Joel Embiid. His presence in the middle was sorely missed, especially on the defensive side. The Sixers were outrebounded and Atlanta had 64 points in the paint. The Hawks crashed the offensive glass, securing 16 total. Had Embiid been there, it would probably be a different outcome.

Although Clint Capella did not play either, the hole in the paint was evident. There was minimal rim protection and way too many layups given up. Despite Mo Bamba and Paul Reed blocking multiple shots in the game, Atlanta had their way in the paint. The evidence is in the amount of points the 76ers gave up in regulation.

Before last night’s loss, the Sixers were only giving up 111 points to opponents. After four quarters, the Hawks scored 125. It is too easy to point to an offensive void when missing the league leader in points per game. It is important to consider his defensive value and how Embiid protects the basket, altering shots that opponents attempt whenever they drive the lane.

Ideally, Embiid can return against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.

AP Photo/John Bazemore