Trae Young led the Hawks with a bounce-back game, scoring 26 points, while Brandon Goodwin and De’Andre Hunter added 15 points apiece as all five Hawks starters notched double-figure scoring.
For the Sixers — who had only nine players active on Monday due to injuries and COVID-19/contact tracing — Joel Embiid scored 24 points in 22 minutes.
That being said about the Sixers, they did threaten to begin this game, and that was due to Embiid just bullying the Hawks in the first quarter, scoring 16 points in the opening frame.
Having drawn a foul in the first minute against Clint Capela, Embiid attacks Capela again — fearful of picking up a second foul — and scores at the rim:
In transition, Embiid receives the ball from Tyrese Maxey and is able to elegantly step his way to the goal:
Embiid got to the free throw line for six attempts in the first quarter, drawing multiple fouls from the Hawks including this one from Hunter:
Add a few jumpers for the mix for Embiid too, including this one against Bruno Fernando:
Then a three-pointer on the screen-and-fade, with Fernando unable to close out:
To wrap up his 16th point in the first quarter, Embiid continued to enjoy his matchup against Bruno Fernando as he grabs the long offensive rebound and gives Fernando the shake and fake at the rim for the basket:
Embiid’s career-high of 49 points — which came against the Hawks last season — was looking like a possibility after the first quarter as the Sixers led 32-28 and were perhaps unfortunate to not lead by a little more heading into the second quarter, but the Hawks received a boost from Brandon Goodwin at the end of the first quarter to close the Sixers’ margin.
Things picked up for the Hawks in the second quarter, and when Embiid returned to the game, the Hawks had a new look for him: double teaming.
Hunter and Capela combine on this possession to get Embiid on the move, who passes on his crowded drive to the open Danny Green:
That’s a good shot for the Sixers — and the Hawks will live with someone else beating them after that first quarter from Embiid — but sadly for them, Danny Green shot 0-of-8 from the field last night, 0-of-7 from three.
On the block, John Collins is the one to come across to double on Embiid, who is forced into a decision and forces the cross-court pass but can only find the Sixers bench:
Hunter comes over on the rotation on this possession and a good vertical challenge at the rim helps force the miss at the rim from Embiid:
Again, the Hawks throw bodies at Embiid, preventing a mid-range jumper and a potential drive, forcing Embiid to relocate behind the three-point line, where the Hawks can live with Embiid shooting from:
While Embiid scored eight points in the second quarter — scoring 24 first half points — he shot 3-of-9 in the second frame. 24 points in the first half is obviously a lot to give up but the Hawks can be satisfied with the adjustment made on Embiid, because it certainly helped change the complexion of the second quarter, and this game.
“I think we were more aggressive as soon as we understood how aggressive he was, and especially the way he can get you in foul trouble, get calls,” said Capela postgame. “As soon as we started being more aggressive on the trap, make him throw the ball away or to his teammates it becomes a different game.”
The Hawks scored 37 points themselves in the second quarter and swung the game back in their favor, in tandem with their adjustments on Embiid paying dividends.
Capela scored 10 points in the second quarter (most of them coming from Young alley-oops), including this lovely play where Collins attacks and draws the defense before dropping the dime for Capela at the baseline:
The Hawks scored 11 second chance points in the second quarter, three of them coming on this possession as Fernando is blocked at the rim by Embiid before Hunter picks up the offensive rebound and finds Collins for his second three-pointer of the quarter:
Young had struggled from three in the games prior to this one but got off of the snide with this deep three-pointer to further increase the Hawks’ lead to double-digits:
The Hawks scored 17 fast break points in the first half, attacking the Sixers at the rim, and on a miss from the Sixers, the Hawks are off to the races with Young and Kevin Huerter, the former finding the latter for the alley-oop layup:
To put the exclamation point on the quarter, the Hawks find Cam Reddish for an explosive finish at the rim:
That is perhaps the most athletically explosive play of Reddish’s career, but it also served to be a fitting end to the Hawks’ 37 point second quarter in which they turned the tables on the Sixers.
Another aspect that helped the Hawks boosted their second quarter point total was their second quarter free throw tally: 16 free throw attempts in the second quarter alone. The Hawks got into the bonus with over five minutes to go in the second quarter and took advantage of it — they haven’t always taken advantage when they’ve been in the bonus for long stretches in quarters but they certainly did last night.
All of these factors helped the Hawks flip this game on its head in the second quarter and towards where the Hawks may have been expected to take it with how short-handed the Sixers were last night.
“We were just running,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce of the second quarter. “I think the biggest thing for us was they had a great first quarter, we had to turn our defense up a little bit better than we did in the first. As a result, I thought our ability to get out and run and get some easy baskets and get to the free throw line — we had 22 free throws at the half and that was because we were running and we were attacking. I thought the first five minutes of the first quarter we settled, we shot a bunch of threes — it was at least four threes in the first five minutes and that was because that’s what they were giving us. I wanted us to impose our will by attacking downhill and doing it in transition and I thought we did that in the second quarter.”
“We were playing fast,” echoed Young of the second quarter. “Just getting back to what we do and shots were going in. You just see the confidence with everybody rolling, after a couple of shots going in felt like a trickle-down effect for everybody. I think it was good, playing the way we did tonight, playing at a fast tempo and doing a better job on the defensive end.”
Taking a 15 point lead into the half, the Sixers on the first night of a back-to-back and conscious of the minutes for Embiid in such a situation, the Hawks just needed a run to almost end this game early and they managed to do it.
An 8-0 run for the Hawks to begin the third quarter stretched their lead to 23 points before increasing that to 25 points moments later, forcing the Sixers into a timeout — trailing 77-52 with 8:14 in the third remaining. At this point, Embiid checked out of the game — the Sixers stating their intentions for the remainder of this game — and did not return, the Sixers effectively waving the white flag there and then.
The Hawks pushed the lead to as many as 35 points before an extended period of garbage time that saw the likes of Brandon Goodwin getting an extended run, as well as the end of the bench players like Nathan Knight, Skylar Mays seeing some rare game-time before Tony Snell made his Hawks debut.
The majority of the Hawks’ work, however, was done in that second quarter: taking the lead back from Philly, finding their answer to Embiid and extending the lead to the point where one run in the third quarter was enough for Philly to concede this game early in the third.
The Sixers were certainly victims of circumstance and injury but you play who is front of you, and the Hawks needed this win in a major way before heading on a tough trip to the west coast before their MLK Day tilt against the Timberwolves.
Postgame, Pierce was pleased with the way the Hawks played on the night, regardless of the result.
“That was a good win, a good feel,” opened Pierce. “Really liked the way our guys played tonight, more so than just getting the win. I thought it was what we’ve talked about all year. They need to feel us a little bit more defensively, we’ve got to turn up our defense. I thought our offense was a mentality. Our guys got out and ran, we tried to get as many easy baskets as we could from running. I enjoyed the way our guys played tonight. It was good to see, good to see the win, good to see our guys play that way. How do we sustain it is the next question but that’s what we’ll focus on.”
The Hawks’ adjustment on Embiid was one of the turning points of this game and Pierce spoke to the effect of what doubling Embiid had on the tone the Hawks set on the court.
“Anytime you’re playing Embiid you have to throw bodies at him,” said Pierce of Embiid postgame. “You have to double team him, you have to put him in the crowd, you have to try and front the post. That goes without saying. You have to go into any game playing Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic — those are two guys you have to send extra bodies at. I think the unintended consequence is, when you play that way, you ramp up your motor defensively where you’re flying around, you’re double teaming the post, you’ve got to scramble and be in rotations. I thought it helped us. We were trying to pick up full-court a little bit more, we were trying to double team but both of them were aggressive, flying around defenses and I thought it really set the tone for how we wanted to play.”
Young has obviously been a topic of discussion for a number of reasons inside the last week — and carrying a minor wrist injury, which he said postgame was a little sore still — but he put together a strong game last night: 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field, 3-of-7 from three, eight assists and zero turnovers in 25 minutes in a return to normality for Young.
Pierce was pleased with Young’s aggression more than anything else, and especially more than makes and misses.
“I think for him it was good, for me it was more about the energy and pace he played with,” said Pierce of Young. “I don’t measure the players by the makes and misses. I thought his aggression was where we like it to be. We changed up a couple of sets to put him back in the middle of the floor and brought our bigs up so that he can be Trae Young. I thought he came out looking to be Trae Young: attacking downhill, getting the bigs behind the defense, spraying out to some of our shooters. His aggression was what was most important tonight.”
Young himself was satisfied to see some shots go down.
“It felt good to get some shots going in,” said Young on his game. “Had a really good warmup today and just carried it over to the game. It felt good.”
There’s honestly not a ton to read from this game in the grand scheme. The Hawks — and this was a phrase mentioned a few times postgame — took care of business against a very depleted Sixers side. It would’ve been a bad look had the Sixers inflicted a fifth straight loss on the Hawks in the condition they were in but the Hawks took care of business and took care of business early in the second half. Capela played the most minutes for the Hawks with 26 minutes when he was briefly inserted in the fourth quarter but that tells you a lot of what you need to know. Young, Collins and Hunter all got to enjoy the entirety of the fourth quarter on the bench.
This was an important win for the Hawks (5-5), with the team setting on a three-game Western Conference road trip, beginning on Wednesday night against the high-flying Phoenix Suns. The yearly fixture in Phoenix has often proved to be a lively affair for the Hawks and it could do so again, though the Hawks are quite short-handed this time around themselves — Phoenix will unquestionably be favored to win that game.
Until next time...