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Defense lets Hawks down in Game 3 loss at home

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Homecourt swings back to Philadelphia after a difficult night defensively for the hosts

2021 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to State Farm Arena on Friday night but could not return to winning ways as the Sixers took Game 3 and the 2-1 series lead with a 127-111 victory.

Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Tobias Harris added 22 points. For the Hawks, Trae Young scored 28 points while John Collins added 23 points.

The Hawks responded well in the second quarter after the Sixers threatened to pull away in the first, the home side scoring at will in the second quarter, shooting 14-of-19 for 36 points to cut the Sixers’ lead to five points at the break, riding a wave of momentum.

Once the third quarter arrived, however, the Sixers ran away with proceedings in a hurry.

Seth Curry got the visitors started as he extends the Sixer lead to eight points as Bogdan Bogdanovic gets drawn to Ben Simmons on the block and can’t recover to Curry in time once the pass is made:

Young tries to respond immediately with a quick, deep and contested three which is missed:

We’ll look at this more later, but the Hawks threw a new look at Embiid but on this occasion Collins is on the other side of the floor so when Embiid catches on the block Young is the second defender and, well, it goes as you would expect as Young fouls Embiid, leading to free throws:

I had wondered if the Sixers would continue to do this, to place Simmons — who was guarded by Collins often last night — on the other side of the floor and throw the ball to Embiid on the other side but the Sixers didn’t need to as it turned out.

Now trailing by double digits, the Hawks come again with Young but as he drives by Simmons on the screen, he loses the ball and commits the foul to prevent the breakaway:

Speaking of Simmons-Collins, Simmons drives and uses his body Collins to carve space and finishes on the reverse to put the Sixers up by 12 points:

The Hawks work themselves into a good shot opportunity with Bogdanovic as he gets to the free throw line area for a good look at a jumper which is missed:

After two missed free throw from Simmons, the Hawks get another good opportunity as Young finds himself open for a deep three which he can’t convert:

The Sixers punished the Hawks for not taking their chances as Curry takes Tony Snell off of the dribble before hitting the tough running hook over Snell to push the Sixers’ lead to 14 points and a Hawks timeout:

The Sixers would push their lead to 20 points in the third quarter as the Hawks shot 27% in the third quarter while the Sixers shot 63% as the Sixers outscored the Hawks 34-19 in the third but it was that 15-4 burst to begin the third quarter that doomed the Hawks in Game 3.

“That’s definitely the quarter where they got their momentum and separation,” said Young of the third quarter.

The Hawks tried to stage come back though, including a lineup in the fourth quarter involving Danilo Gallinari, and Clint Capela, which isn’t something that the Hawks have really thrown at and it was an odd time for it to be thrown. It wasn’t a surprise to everyone, however.

“Not necessarily,” said Collins when asked if he was surprised at the Gallinari-Collins-Capela lineup. “I definitely felt like we were going to try use it at some point. I didn’t even know when throughout the entire year, first couple of games or in the playoffs. We’re here now. Obviously I feel like we’re versatile enough to do that, our first time doing it and it is what it is.”

The fourth quarter was a largely back and forth affair and while the Hawks did cut the lead to 13 points with five minutes but couldn’t bring the Sixers’ lead under that as the visitors took the 2-1 series lead.

Postgame, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan credited the Hawks’ lack of stops — allowing the Sixers to set their defense after a made basket — as a primary reason why the Hawks struggled at times in Game 3.

“I thought they did a good job of executing and really just pounding us, taking advantage of their size,” said McMillan of the decisive third quarter. “I thought Tobias kind of took over at one point and basically we just could not get stops. We’re not able to get stops and get out into transition to get anything easy, we’re taking the ball out of the net. We gave up a big third quarter and when their defense is set, they’re pretty good.”

The Sixers scored 66 points in the paint and shot a very, very high percentage at the rim:

It was the usual suspects for the Sixers with Harris scoring 16 points in the paint, Simmons scoring 14 in the paint and Embiid with 12 points in the paint as well as 11 screen assists.

“That’s a big screen Embiid is setting,” said McMillan of the interior defense. “We’re not getting through that screen, we’re getting hit on those screens. We’ve got to work harder to get through those screens and try to keep the ball in front. It was like a downhill game for us tonight where they were turning the corner on those screens with Embiid and Simmons and basically just playing in our paint. We’ve got to do a better job of giving help, being up on the screens but the guards have to get through those screens.”

“We’re letting them get downhill,” added Collins of the Hawks’ interior defense. “Obviously the actions they’re running and the personnel they have, they like to get downhill and get to their game. We didn’t do our job, we let them get the shots they would like to have normally and that can’t happen, especially in a playoff game. Back to the film room, obviously we know we can do a better job so it’s just about us locking and compete a little harder, a little smarter.”

Speaking of Embiid, the MVP runner-up had a monster game in Game 2, scoring 40 points on 49% usage as he had his way. While he was still effective, Embiid was a little less productive scoring wise, scoring 27 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, 12-of-16 from the free throw line to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists on 29.5% usage.

The Hawks threw a different look defensively at Embiid to get the ball out of his hands a little more but struggled in its effectiveness at times.

On the catch, Embiid is quickly doubled but draws the foul as Capela makes contact with Embiid’s arm:

Here, Capela works hard to make Embiid catch at the three-point line and, again, when the extra bodies come Capela is called for the foul:

Again, the Hawks send bodies to Embiid — three of them — but, again, Embiid draws the foul and this time it leads to free throws:

We saw this one already but in the third quarter Collins is on the weakside so Young helps out this time but can’t obviously contain Embiid, who draws the foul and free throws:

Embiid, to his credit, didn’t just draw fouls from the Hawks consistently in this situations but also found his teammates too, such as this great alley-oop for Simmons out of the double:

Again, Embiid finds Simmons out of the traffic but this time Simmons can’t convert at the rim, one of the Sixers’ rare misses at the rim:

On the opposite side this time, the Hawks double Embiid and this time Matisse Thybulle makes the cut behind John Collins and Embiid finds him for the easy basket at the rim:

“We just tried to have a concerted team effort to slow him down, obviously a very skilled basketball player,” said Collins of Embiid. “They want to feature him and get him involved so it’s our job as a team to slow him down, got to do that as many times as we can.”

The usage from Embiid was down from Game 2 and 27 points is a decent step down compared to the 40 the Hawks conceded in Game 2 but the one thing the Hawks had going for them in Games 1 and 2 was their bench advantage, which evaporated in Game 3 as the Sixers’ bench outscored the Hawks’ bench 48-32, including 17 bench points in the first quarter alone (11 coming from Furkan Korkmaz), and this was one of the big factors that swung Game 3. What should have been the Hawks’ biggest advantage turned into a big disadvantage...

Gallinari continued to have an impact on the series as he scored 17 points off of the bench but Kevin Huerter really struggled, scoring three points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 from three as he struggled with foul trouble in Game 3 — some of which were very poor fouls.

Speaking of three-point shooting, it was another difficult night for the Hawks, 6-of-23 in Game 3. After igniting in Game 1 from behind the arc en route to victory, it’s been a struggle for the Hawks from outside the arc, and it’s been an important factor in Philadelphia turning this series around.

“They made some adjustments in Game 2 and they stayed with those adjustments tonight,” said McMillan when asked about the Hawks’ three-point shooting disappearing after Game 1. “What they’re doing is a solid job, they’re a really good defensive team, they’re doing a solid job of staying in front of us. So we have to get more ball movement, we have to set better screens to try and free up the basketball but we’ve got to get ball movement. It really starts on the defensive end of the floor though. We’ve got to get stops so that we can try to get out into transition and get some easy baskets and not play against a set defense for the majority of the game. I just think that’s where it starts for us.”

Despite the missed threes last night, offense was not the issue for the Hawks.

They got 17 points from Gallinari off of the bench, Collins shot 9-of-13 from the field for 19 points, Bogdan Bogdanovic also scored 19 points on 7-of-13 from the field and Young his 28 on 9-of-17 shooting from the field — these are solid outputs and very solid percentages.

However, you won’t win a ton of games if you allow your opponents to shoot 58% from the field and allow a defensive rating of 130.9.

I think it’s worth it for the Hawks to throw that look again at Embiid but the Sixers scored far too easily inside, be it Simmons and Harris. The other thing the Hawks should consider is their rotation.

McMillan (and his counterpart Doc Rivers) has been essentially running a regular season rotation, which is incredibly confusing to say the least in Game 3 of the second round. I’m not a coach, but I struggle to see the need to play Onyeka Okongwu eight minutes or Lou Williams 13 minutes (though, some of this was due to Huerter’s foul trouble).

Plenty for McMillan and the coaches to think about what to adjust heading into a must-win scenario in Game 4.

“We will take the next two days to work on that and talk about how we will come out on Monday night,” said McMillan of adjustments available to him. “Everything will be on the table as far as how we come out and play, because their size is a factor. I thought they pounded us in the paint tonight and we’ll see if we can make some adjustments here.”

Everything should be on the table, including the idea of perhaps starting Kevin Huerter in place of Solomon Hill (Snell did indeed start in Hill’s place in the second half).

A tough night, all-in-all for the Hawks — it’s the second successive game where the Sixers have comprehensively beaten the Hawks as they ran a 20+ lead for the second game in a row. Again, offense was not the issue in Game 3 but defense. It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments the Hawks can make but the Sixers are in good shape


The Hawks (trailing 2-1) are back in action for Game 4 on Monday night at State Farm Arena in a must-win scenario with the prospect of going back to Philadelphia for Game 5 down 3-1 a very difficult spot to recover from.

Until next time...