The Sixers had their first slump of the season losing two straight in the past week to the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics, both at home. In those two games, their offense looked sloppy while their defense couldn’t keep up with the pace of their opponents. Tonight, on the road in Atlanta, it was a different story against the speedy Hawks. This was the third In-Season Tournament game for the Sixers who were 1-1 in the tournament virtually making this a must-win to stay in contention to make it out of group play and to Las Vegas for the elimination round.
The first half was played to the Hawks’ liking, who had a similar game plan to the Indiana Pacers, scoring fast break points galore and causing the Sixers offense and defense to speed up by playing end-to-end action for most of the first two frames. However, in the second half, the scoring was plenty for the Sixers, who rode Embiid’s all-star performance and some unlikely help from the bench to capture a victory in Atlanta. Here are the two keys from tonight’s 126-116 win.
Joel Embiid Dominance
Producing his seventh thirty-point game of the season, Embiid was dominant from start to finish, leading the Sixers with 32 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists. The big man has asserted his name into this year’s MVP conversation already. It is very clear that he is the most important player for a team in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics handily beat the Sixers with an all-around team effort after losing Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis for that game and you see the bench of Boston provide more consistency than the Sixers. The Bucks now have an all-NBA talent in Damian Lillard to join forces with Giannis Antetokoumpo, who both can provide game-altering performances at any time. Don’t get me wrong, Tyrese Maxey is very close to entering the atmosphere of all-NBA talent, judging by his recent 50-point performance. But it is still clear that the glue for this group will be Joel Embiid for the remainder of the season. He is the MVP of the Eastern Conference and maybe even the entire NBA right now.
With the losses of Kelly Oubre and Nicholas Batum for the last few games, someone needed to step up in their absence and provide a spark from the bench to get a big win against the Hawks. Those two guys were Jaden Springer and Daniel House Jr. House had a season-high 14 points on 5-8 shooting for the Sixers and gave them crucial efforts on both ends of the floor in the second half to keep the game away from the Hawks even with the second unit in the game. The other was Jaden Springer, who I can’t say enough about. His defensive display, flying around with big blocks, active hands resulting in points off turnovers, and the cutting ability that was missed from Oubre being gone was filled by Springer tonight. Although he only had 8 points on 3-7 shooting, his presence on the floor gave the second and first unit a much-needed boost of energy and he has certainly made a name for himself to be considered as an everyday player.
The Sixers move to 9-3 on the season and 2-1 in the In-Season Tournament. Their next contest is against the Brooklyn Nets for a Sunday matinee at 3 PM.