The Philadelphia 76ers took an 11-point third-quarter lead Friday night at State Farm Arena and, after successive collapses, managed to hold off the Atalanta Hawks for a 104-99 game six win.
Seth Curry scored 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Tobias Harris also scored 24 and Joel Embiid had 22 points on 9-for-24 shooting and 13 rebounds.
Trae Young posted 34 points and 12 assists.
Bogdan Bogdanovic was ruled out with right knee soreness in the fourth quarter, which could be significant for game seven.
Here’s three takeaways:
The Sixers started like a team who hadn’t recovered from the sting of blowing big leads in games four and five.
They made an effort to get Tobias Harris going, but he started 0-for-2. Harris fouled Young on a three-point attempt. Embiid committed a turnover and also missed a jumper, leading to a fast-break Kevin Huerter layup that gave the Hawks a 10-2 lead.
Harris picked up his second foul guarding Young with 7:54 left in the first and was replaced by Matisse Thybulle. Ben Simmons was stripped by Huerter and then fouled him on the following fast break, his second personal.
Tyrese Maxey came in for Simmons, Atlanta had a 20-8 lead and it seemed game six was simply a continuation of the nightmarish second half of game five.
Young didn’t face much early resistance, using ball screens well and navigating easily into the paint. The 22-year-old had 20 points and seven assists in the first half. Meanwhile, Embiid struggled with his shot and overall decision-making, missing 5-of-7 first-quarter field goals.
Embiid turned it over five times within his first 11 minutes. He didn’t appear to have full trust in himself or his teammates. Embiid had a career-low turnover rate this year (12.5%, per Cleaning the Glass), but he contributed to the Sixers setting a poor tone by looking unsure of his reads when double teamed and throwing unnecessarily risky passes.
The Sixers’ weakness wasn’t surprising in light of how Wednesday’s loss concluded, but it wasn’t excusable either. Time and again, the Sixers have given the young Hawks reasons to believe in themselves despite possessing superior on-paper talent. Give the Sixers credit, though, for not quitting on the game and eventually elevating their play.
Maxey keeps the Sixers in this one
Maxey made his first four field goals and also took the Sixers’ first free throws of the game, getting to the foul line with a strong drive to open the second quarter. Shortly after, he pushed the ball up the floor, accepted a drag screen from Dwight Howard and found him rolling for two points. A Maxey floater tied the game at 29.
The rookie has been the quintessential “We need a spark” player for Rivers this season, and he provided just what his team required. It’s evident he enjoys important games and thinks he’s capable of thriving in them.
From a strategic standpoint, Maxey was helpful as someone who can create his own shot and penetrate into defensive seams. When Harris has been on the floor with four bench pieces, the Sixers have tended to lacked such players.
The Sixers put Maxey on Young and Simmons on Bogdanovic in the second quarter, likely with the idea of decreasing the chances that Simmons would encounter further foul trouble. It didn’t work.
Simmons was called for his third foul with 5:54 to go in the second quarter for making contact with Clint Capela in the backcourt after the Hawks center grabbed a defensive rebound. Not a bright play to say the least.
The Sixers were fortunate to only trail by four at the half. Harris made a few key shots in the second period to keep Atlanta from re-establishing a double-digit lead for long. He did something similar in the third quarter with several momentum-halting jumpers.
While Harris missed two shots at the rim early in the fourth, Maxey impressed again with his fearlessness. A 30.1% three-point shooter during the regular season, Maxey drained a three and had another erased when, upon review, Lou Williams was deemed to have fouled Howard before Maxey’s attempt.
Furkan Korkmaz started for Danny Green (right calf strain) for a third straight game and scored seven points on 3-for-9 shooting in 23 minutes. Hill closed over Korkmaz and the Sixers again used 10 players.
Curry becomes clutch, Simmons plays awful
Outside of the foul issues, Simmons’ first half was not good. In nine minutes, he scored four points on 2-for-5 shooting, didn’t attempt a free throw, pulled down two rebounds, and had one assist, a transition dish to Harris for a corner three.
The Sixers began the third quarter well defensively, pushing the ball and not playing a ton of half-court offense, which was a positive development for both Simmons and the team as a whole. He had three early third-period assists and Curry kept up his world-class shooting. Back-to-back Curry triples put the Sixers up 59-51. There was a smirk on his face jogging back down the floor after a mid-range pull-up.
For the series, Curry has averaged 21.8 points and shot 61.5% from the floor, 59.6% from three-point range. That’s the production of an All-Star.
Simmons was 0-for 1 from the floor with two points in the second half. He was called for a moving screen with 7:22 left, his fifth foul. Rivers kept Simmons in and that Hawks intentionally fouled him twice. Simmons went 2-for-4 and was then subbed out for Maxey.
After Young made a tightly contested three on Maxey to cut the Sixers’ lead to one with 1:59 to go, Simmons came back into the game, although Korkmaz checked in for him on a possession with 34.3 seconds left. Following a Danilo Gallinari dunk that trimmed the Sixers’ advantage to 97-94 with 20.5 seconds remaining, Rivers called a timeout so he could sub out Simmons.
Obviously, that it was logical not to play one of the Sixers’ two All-Stars for crucial possessions in the fourth quarter of a must-win game says a lot about how impactful Simmons’ weaknesses are.
He’s consistently been an offensive non-threat late in games, and he’s not at all reliable when opponents decide to put him on the foul line.
The Sixers’ defense secured the necessary stops, though, and Simmons’ teammates made enough clutch free throws to ensure they live to play at least another day.
Game seven will take place Sunday night at 8:00 P.M. E.S.T. in Philadelphia.