The Philadelphia 76ers came into Friday night’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks looking to get a win after losing seven of their last eight games. The Sixers have been hit with the injury and illness bug, producing a team that is really thin and struggling.
Philadelphia also had a bust trade deadline, trading away a good portion of their bench depth to acquire Buddy Hield and Cam Payne from Indiana and Milwaukee, respectively. Both players made their surprising debut in the starting lineup one day after being traded to the Sixers.
After being in the rumor mill for months, the Atlanta Hawks came into Friday’s game fully intact. They were rumored to have everyone on the trade block except Trae Young and Jalen Johnson. Their most notable trade piece was Dejounte Murray, who ended up staying with the team.
The Sixers started the game with Hield and Payne in the starting lineup, and Nick Nurse went to his new guys early to try to get them settled in. Hield’s first basket fittingly came on a step-back three-pointer, and then he drove to the rim after he attacked a closeout. After the first few moments of the game, both of the newcomers struggled to get going offensively, which in turn made that side of the ball difficult.
Philly also struggled defensively in the first half guarding Trae Young. He was able to get free for open threes and thread the team in the pick-and-roll. Head coach Nick Nurse tried to find creative ways to hide players on defense with some of their best defenders out due to injury. Some miscommunication led to open threes for multiple Hawks, who hit eleven in the first half to build a 17-point lead.
Early in the second half, the Sixers played a little better on offense but still struggled to get stops, and when they did, they allowed offensive rebounds to give the Hawks a second chance. The Hawks made the Sixers pay with every second chance opportunity, with Saddiq Bey and Bogdan Bogdanovic making threes and getting to the line. Trading buckets in the third quarter still allowed the Hawks to take their lead into the fourth.
In the final period, Philly finally got some stops which led to good looks for their offense and finally made the Hawks pay. Atlanta is normally one of the worst defenses in the league, and it showed in that quarter. The Sixers were able to storm back and cut the lead to five, but that was the closest they got, running out of gas with just about two minutes to go.
The Hawks held on to win 127-121, with Trae Young leading the way, scoring 37 points and dishing out 12 assists. Kelly Oubre Jr. led the Sixers in scoring with 28 points and pulling down 12 boards.
Welcome to Philly
New acquisitions Buddy Hield and Cam Payne suited up in the game tonight after being traded 24 hours ago. It was unexpected but much needed for a team that may not have had enough to field a roster to play against the Hawks.
Both had solid debuts on offense, with Hield scoring 20 points and shooting 4-12 from beyond the arc. Payne was able to contribute 20 points as well and showed his quick trigger shooting, even with the funky form. A lot of fans were baffled that the Sixers traded Patrick Beverley, who was a fan favorite and had good moments here. Payne’s play against the Hawks shows he could be a true offensive upgrade over Beverley.
Regardless of his debut numbers, Hield showed a peak at what his gravity can bring on the court. There were possessions where the threat of his shot opened up opportunities for others. When Tyrese Maxey returns to the court, both will feel the benefit of each other’s presence. Their debut didn’t result in a win, but they will surely help Harris and Maxey hold the fort until the Big Fella returns.
After their loss against the Hawks, the Sixers have lost eight of nine and are falling down the Eastern Conference standings. This fall started with injuries to Embiid but has been compounded with Melton and Batum being out for extended periods. Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey have also been in and out of the lineup for the last three weeks.
Once they get Maxey, Melton, and Batum back, this team will be much more competitive. They need this to come together quickly to stack some wins and stay out of the play-in tournament. If they stay in the top six, Embiid’s potential return would truly elevate this squad.
Since the absence of Embiid, Melton, Batum, and Covington, who all are arguably the team’s best defenders, the Sixers have really struggled on that end of the court. Defense and rebounding are usually effort plays and they need more of it.
In these games, they need to scratch and claw their way to victories, especially when the offense isn’t clicking. If they can focus more on limiting extra possessions and play better overall on defense, it will go a long way.