With all appropriate caveats about Nate and his coaches knowing more about basketball than I could learn if I had the rest of my life to do nothing but breakdown game film, there’s a few things strategy-wise I’d like to see the Hawks apply in Game 4 tonight.
First, don’t automatically double Joel Embiid. Perhaps this is a little counterintuitive and, frankly, idiotic. However, the Hawks have been terrible at double teaming Embiid, especially in the post. Because Clint’s been such an excellent defender in the post, straight up and help, it doesn’t seem as if the Hawks have had the reps throughout the season to run an effective post double. Or, maybe they don’t have the personnel. Or, maybe Embiid is too good at drawing phantom fouls. Or passing out of the double. Whatever the issue is, the Hawks’ double teams are not working. Would playing Embiid straight up be worse? Perhaps, but I’d still give it a try for a bit and see what happens.
Second, the Hawks have to selectively run the "hack-a" strategy. Have to, have to, have to. This probably should even be first. Ben Simmons cannot shoot free throws effectively enough to make the strategy a net negative. Plus, you get the secondary effect of getting in his head periodically throughout the game. I used the term "selectively" because there are some obvious and less obvious times to hack Ben. An absolute must, automatic, should be down, fourth quarter with the Sixers in the bonus. A second is when Ben’s going to the rim. There was a play in Game 3 where Ben blew by Gallo for a transition layup. Ben Simmons should never get transition buckets at the rim, which is a redundancy, because that’s the only place Ben gets transition buckets. Another time to employ the strategy is anytime the Sixers get on a run. In fact, trade a timeout or two to stop a run by hacking Ben to stop the flow of the game.
Finally, I would rotate Clint and Onyeka in shorter stints while Embiid is on the court and tell them every time the Hawks get a rebound, get the outlet pass, and run the floor as hard as you can. Granted, it sucks to be a center and running the floor, but they have to put as much pressure on Embiid’s knee-within the normal confines of playing regular basketball-as humanly possible. The Hawks have to make Embiid run the court all game. They have to make him jump and defend while running. If Embiid can hold up, more power to him, but but the Hawks need to put as much pressure on Embiid physically as possible. By the way, that doesn’t mean you’re trying to injure Embiid. Nobody’s talking about the Hawks going all Tonya Harding on him. But, you do need to make him run and jump as much as possible.
Let’s get a win and send it back to Philly tied-Go Hawks!