The Philadelphia 76ers collapsed Wednesday night at home, chocking a 26-point lead. They now find themselves a game away from elimination after a 109-106 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
After blowing an 18-point lead Monday night, the Sixers looked well on their way to a game five win. The Hawks kept competing, though, and the Sixers’ execution came out terribly as the pressure and possibility of disaster increased.
Joel Embiid scored 37 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Seth Curry had a playoff career-high 36 points.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 39 points.
Here’s three takeaways:
Embiid dominate first half
Lets start out positive.
The Sixers’ half-court offense was at its best to begin the game after the team managed only 38 second-half points in game four. The Sixers made their first six field goals and 11 of their first 12.
Furkan Korkmaz converted two jumpers, Tobias Harris scored over Kevin Huerter in the post, and Embiid had his way whenever he was able to face up against Clint Capela. Embiid followed up his 0-for-12 game four second half with a 8-for-8 start.
As Embiid has shown time and time again, he’s a mismatch for any defender who attempts to guard him 1-on-1. Capela played good defense in game four, but Embid’s shooting mishaps appeared to be far more about his torn meniscus and a rare off night than anything on Capela’s end.
Clearly knowing that Capela couldn’t contain him, Embiid talked some trash to the opposing center before checking out for the first time and picked up a technical foul. He then asked the home fans for some noise. The Sixers already had a 38-21 lead at that point.
With nothing else working and their deficit at 20 points, the Hawks began intentionally fouling Ben Simmons with 4:58 to go in the second quarter. Embiid cleaned up one of Simmons’ misses by grabbing an offensive rebound and drawing a foul on Capela. Shortly after, a frustrated Capela turned the ball over and then shoved Embiid, earning a technical of his own.
As for Simmons’ free throws, he’s at 32.8% in the playoffs after a 4-for-14 game. He made 2-of-4 when hacked in the fourth period. Rivers subbed him out for Shake Milton for two fourth-period possessions.
There are many reasons why the Sixers waste big leads the past two games, but Simmons’ foul shooting is a big one. He’s never been a good free throw shooter, but the extent of his playoff problems is perplexing. When the spotlight has been on in games four and five, he’s failed.
Simmons post game said that his free throw issue mental. Obviously, that’s not good.
Simmons had eight points on 2-for-4 shooting, nine assists and four rebounds.
Embiid, normally a strong foul shooter, missed two with 10.9 seconds left to inevitably lose the game.
Sixers defense plays well until 4th
Young lofted in floaters and drew contact as usual, but he did not hurt the Sixers nearly as much as in game two with his passing. Following an 18-assist game four, Young had seven in game five.
Atlanta missed many decent first-half looks, but the Sixers were dialed in defensively. Simmons was an annoyance on the ball, the defenders that switched onto Young mostly held up, and the Sixers were better than in game four about not straying too far from the Hawks’ shooters.
The Curry vs. Bogdan Bogdanovic defensive matchup kept working for the Sixers, which is significant with Danny Green (right calf strain) out. Bogdanovic was called for his fifth foul with 4:56 remaining in the second quarter and posted six points on 3-for-9 shooting.
Curry’s strong suit is his shooting, but he’s an intelligent defender. However, Lou Williams and Young had some fourth-quarter success against him at a stage when fatigue was surely a factor. The Hawks targeted him effectively.
Overall, the Sixers’ fourth-quarter defense was very poor. The Hawks scored 40 points in the period. Hard to believe that the Sixers, a team that finished the regular season second in defensive rating, couldn’t get the stops they needed and hold on to a 26-point lead.
Bench becomes big factor is late collapse
In contrast to the first unit, the Sixers’ bench struggled to score early in the second quarter. Milton had trouble playing through the Hawks’ ball pressure and getting the Sixers into their sets. He also missed his first three shots, including a wide-open transition three-pointer.
Milton had a little of his game two magic left, though, making a leaning three as the shot clock expired.
Rivers had a 10-man rotation, inserting Tyrese Maxey late in the third quarter. It appears he’s settled on Harris as the starter who stays in with the second unit and, ideally, generates offense. Harris had a rough game, though, scoring just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. The Sixers obviously needed more from their third star, who’d been playing at a high level in the playoffs until Wednesday.
The Sixers’ bench was pretty blah in the second half as well, allowing the Hawks to trim their deficit down to 14 with 10:43 left in the game. Rivers called a timeout and shouted words of anger at his players.
A Danilo Gallinari three cut the Sixers’ advantage to 11, leading Rivers to send his starters back in sooner than planned.
They could not hold off the Hawks, who took the lead when Young drew a foul on Matisse Thybulle and made three free throws with 1:26 to go.
The Sixers look to avoid the series elimination in game six Friday night in Atlanta.