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Hawks scuffle defensively in 127-111 loss to Sixers in Game 3

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Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Three Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers knotted at 1-1 in a best-of-seven second round series, Friday’s Game 3 matchup took on considerable significance. The Hawks entered Game 3 with the NBA’s longest active home winning streak but, after an evening filled with defensive challenges, Atlanta fell to Philadelphia by a final score of 127-111 at State Farm Arena.

For the most part, the first quarter was an exercise in uneven basketball on both sides. Both teams were plagued by turnovers and sloppy play, though Bogdan Bogdanovic began the night hot and scored the first seven points for the Hawks.

Late in the first quarter, the Hawks had six turnovers and only five field goals. In the midst of those struggles, the Sixers went on their first big run, using a 13-3 spurt to take a 21-14 lead. From there, Atlanta was able to largely hang on for the rest of the opening period — even with a full bench linup — and the Hawks trailed by eight points after 12 minutes.

Foul trouble forced Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan to tinker with his rotation, particularly with Kevin Huerter picking up his third foul early in the second quarter. Still, the Hawks were able to stabilize things as the starters began to return, bouncing back from a deficit that was as many as 11 points and making an impact down the stretch of the first half.

Atlanta’s success largely materialized offensively, with the team shooting a blistering 74 percent in the second quarter and also generating 10 free throw attempts. Bogdanovic was key with his red-hot shooting, but Trae Young was also a significant catalyst, setting up lob dunks and creating his own scoring attempts.

Young eventually beat the second quarter buzzer on a breezy layup, and that bucket brought the Hawks back within a 61-56 margin at the break.

Young (16 points) and Bogdanovic (15 points) were enormous in keeping the Hawks in touch.

However, Atlanta allowed almost 1.3 points per possession to the visiting Sixers in the first half, and that theme continued when play resumed. Following a relatively encouraging start to the third quarter, the Sixers zoomed to nine consecutive points on the way to a 15-2 overall run. When the dust settled, the Hawks trailed by 18 points, and it was a two-way meltdown, with the defense yielding 19 points in five minutes and Atlanta struggling mightily to score.

The home team did cut into the deficit, slashing the margin to 14 and getting into the bonus relatively early in the third quarter. However, a bench-heavy unit flopped to end the quarter and Atlanta trailed by 20 points with 12 minutes remaining. Philadelphia shot 12-of-19 from the floor and attempted 12 free throws in the third quarter, and they did it all without committing a turnover, illustrating Atlanta’s defensive issues.

Though the door was at least cracked open on a few occasions, the Hawks were unable to mount the considerable run needed to really threaten the Sixers in the fourth quarter. Atlanta’s best stretch came with an 8-1 spurt that allowed the team to climb within a 13-margin with 5:13 left, but the margin was quickly extended and that was that.

There were a few offensive standouts for the Hawks, headlined by 28 points and eight assists from Young. Collins added 23 and seven rebounds, with Bogdanovic contributing 19 points. Overall, Atlanta’s offense was more than acceptable, shooting 48 percent and 27-of-32 at the free throw line with only 11 turnovers. The Hawks scored at approximately their average rate on a per-possession basis, but the defensive end was not up to that standard.

Philadelphia rode Embiid (27 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and an otherwise balanced attack to a very strong overall performance offensively. The Sixers shot 58 percent from the floor in the game, scoring more than 1.3 points per possession to send the Hawks into a 2-1 series hole.

After a two-day break, the series will continue with Game 4 on Monday at State Farm Arena.

Stay tuned.