The Philadelphia 76ers at one time Monday night looked like they might cruise to a 3-1 lead over the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.
Instead, they let an 18-point second-quarter lead fly away and will fly back to Philadelphia with the series tied after a 103-100 loss.
With the Sixers down a point, Tobias Harris passed the ball to Joel Embiid on a pick-and-roll. Embiid missed a layup and the ball deflected out of bounds off Ben Simmons with 8.2 seconds left.
The Sixers then intentionally fouled Trae Young, who made two free throws. Seth Curry misfired on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
Embiid had 17 points on 4-for-20 shooting and a playoff career-high 21 rebounds. He had no worse game in terms of field goal percentage all season. Harris recorded 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Simmons had 11 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists.
Here’s three takeaways:
Making adjustments without Green
Furkan Korkmaz started in place of Danny Green, who suffered a right calf strain in game three and is out for at least two weeks. The Hawks also changed their starting five, removing Solomon Hill and putting Kevin Huerter in.
Korkmaz posted 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting in 25 minutes. He did not defend especially well, allowing Huerter a driving layup and unencumbered three-pointer late in the second quarter, though he wasn’t an unplayable liability.
Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, and George Hill are among the other starting options that head coach Doc Rivers might consider down the line.
The Sixers used a 10-man rotation, with Tyrese Maxey appearing for the first time in the second quarter and playing in Green’s spot. He knocked down a corner three, his first long-range make since game four of the Sixers’ first round series against the Washington Wizards.
Green’s absence and the decision to open with Korkmaz meant Curry had the challenging job of guarding Bogdan Bogdanovic. He made a first-quarter three-pointer when Bogdanovic (22 points on 9-for-24 shooting) screened for Trae Young and slid out to the left wing before Curry, playing his usual hedge-and-recover defense, could contest his jumper. The Hawks could perhaps have tested Curry’s pick-and-roll defense more earlier in the series.
Curry was effective on the other end of the floor, making two three-pointers and a layup during a Sixers run late in the first quarter. The 30-year-old converted two mid-range jumpers during a third-period Hawks charge, too.
Stars don’t look great
Both teams experienced cold stretches in the first quarter. Embiid missed his first four field goals, all of which were jumpers. Young and John Collins each began 0-for-5.
Stephanie Ready reported during the second quarter on the TNT broadcast that Embiid headed back to the locker room with Sixers general manager Elton Brand and received “medical attention.” Embiid, who’s been playing on a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, said Friday night he rolled his ankle and fell on his back during the Sixers’ game three win.
Embiid was near his MVP finalist level when he returned, passing smartly when double teamed, cleaning up any rebound in his neighborhood and draining a baseline turnaround jumper. He couldn’t keep that brilliance, though.
Young appeared to be hold back by an issue with his right shoulder, which the Hawks training staff wrapped when he went to the bench for the first time. He had a wide-open early three that was nowhere near going in, hitting hard off the backboard. Young (25 points on 8-for-26 shooting, 18 assists) had tape on his shoulder upon returning in the second quarter.
As a whole, the Hawks struggled offensively to start the game. Atlanta was at one point 7-for-33 from the field, 2-for-12 from three-point range, and, per Cleaning the Glass, 2-for-10 at the rim. The Sixers played solid defense, though they were fortunate the Hawks missed plenty of high-quality looks.
Embiid’s shooting troubles were too much to come back from
Harris has been a dependable scorer for the Sixers. Outside of the Sixers’ game four loss to the Wizards, a night in which he was inclined to force the action after Embiid left in the first quarter with his knee injury, Harris has shot over 50% from the floor in all nine playoff games. In every game, it’s seemed he has major mismatches. Huerter was the smaller defender who couldn’t contain him Monday night. Give Harris credit for taking what the game gives him, too. He’s almost always struck the right balance between looking to attack and playing within the natural flow of the offense. However, he had a noticeably minimal impact in the fourth quarter of game four as the Sixers focused on getting Embiid the ball and had trouble generating decent shots.
It was unavoidable that Embiid wouldn’t maintain his top-notch efficiency. He was due for an off shooting night and it came Monday. Embiid shot 0-for-7 from the floor in the third period, 0-for-5 in the fourth. A Bogdanovic three early in the fourth completely erased the Sixers’ advantage.
As was the case in game two, Milton provided offense at a important moment. Entering the fourth quarter with no points, he scored eight within the first three minutes of the quarter. The third-year guard drove into the paint without hesitation, drawing three free throws, and again trusted himself to make important shots.
Ultimately, it’s very difficult for the Sixers to win games that involve Embiid having more field goal attempts than points and the opposition only committing four turnovers (the lowest by a Sixers opponent this season).
The Sixers hope Embiid’s knee responds well to a day off Tuesday and that his jumpers start to drop in game five, which’ll be back in Philadelphia on Wednesday.