December 10, 2023

What to watch as 76ers kick off Round 2 vs. Hawks, Rivers’ outlook


Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Two weeks after they kicked off their playoff run, the Philadelphia 76ers will begin another series.

They’ll play the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in game one of round two at a sold out Wells Fargo Center. As of Saturday night, Joel Embiid was questionable to play with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.

Here’ what to watch:

Rivers cites Belichick in series outlook

Former Sixers head coach Brett Brown often talked about boosting his team’s “health and spirit” so that it was possible to “land the plane.” He’d use the saying when an unfortunate injury or other obstacle arose, indicating his priority was peaking in the playoffs. 

Doc Rivers, Brown’s replacement, brought back the familiar phrase Saturday in the context of perspective from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who’s not the most well-liked person here in Philadelphia. 

“If your goal is to get out of the second round, how low are your goals? Really. That’s not my goal,” Rivers said. “If that happened and that’s all you get, that’s not successful for me — or hopefully our team … hopefully our city. We want more. We want the entire cake. You have to put your heart on the line to do that. You do. 

“As Bill Belichick always told me, you’re going to have one of two things in the playoffs: You’re going to be able to land the plane smoothly or you’re going to have a crash landing. Period. That’s it. And that’s got to be our attitude.”

Rivers has lost his last three times in round two of the playoffs. The Sixers have fallen the last four occasions they’ve been to this stage and haven’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals since the 2000-01 season. 

Can Curry stay hot?

Though the Sixers were strong across the board Wednesday in their series-ending game five victory over the Washington Wizards, Seth Curry was the player who played most above his normal level.

He scored a playoff career-best 30 points on 10-for-17 shooting. We imagine the Sixers will aim to give Curry opportunities to score on Trae Young, assuming the Hawks begin the game with that defensive matchup. 25 or 30 points from Curry would obviously be great for the Sixers. At a minimum, though, the Sixers want to make Young work on defense and reduce from whatever he’s able to provide on the other end of the floor. 

Strong benches

While Rivers said Saturday his bench usage would be dictated by matchups, he insisted he’s open to playing 10 or 11 players. 

“I would love to,” he said. “It’s always nice to be able to use guys, because the more guys you use, the more they’ll be ready if they need to be used — in case of an emergency. But you just don’t know. Atlanta is a different beast. They just have so many skilled players. Not sure how deep we’ll go. But we’ll watch it. And I wouldn’t be scared to do it, let me put it that way.”

Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and Lou Williams are the Hawks capable of giving Atlanta a scoring pop off the bench. The Sixers have a few players who fit that description, with Tyrese Maxey the one having the most momentum after an energetic game five against Washington in which he posted 13 points and six rebounds.


When: 1:00 P.M. E.S.T.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

Broadcast: ABC

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Social media coverage: Philly Sports Reports’ Twitter & Instagram.

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