After advancing with a five-game win over the New York Knicks in the first round, the Atlanta Hawks will continue their playoff journey with a matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Game 1 arrives on Sunday afternoon, with the Hawks visiting Wells Fargo Center for what should be an intriguing test for both teams.
Trae Young was the story of the opening round for the Hawks, serving as the team’s offensive engine and performing at a sky-high level. Young averaged 29.2 points and 9.8 assists per game while operating in complete control. Against Philadelphia, however, Young and Atlanta’s offense will face perhaps a stiffer challenge.
Though there isn’t much to be gleaned from a season series that did not feature a single game with health on both sides, the 76ers are quite a bit better than the Knicks overall, forcing the Hawks to raise their level of play. Philadelphia is the No. 1 seed and, in addition to a strong offense, the 76ers finished the regular season with the No. 2 defense in the NBA. The 76ers allowed only 107.0 points per possession for the season, and they are both talented and physical defensively.
Perhaps the No. 1 storyline in advance of tip-off is the status of 76ers All-NBA center Joel Embiid. The talented big man left Game 4 of Philadelphia’s first round series with a knee issue, and Embiid missed the team’s clinching win in Game 5 with what is now described as a partial tear in his meniscus.
The 76ers were able to largely hold up defensively with Embiid off the floor this season. However, Philadelphia’s offense fell off a cliff with Embiid on the bench, scoring only 106.6 points per 100 possessions compared to 117.8 points per 100 possessions when he played. For a deeper look at how the 76ers may fare offensively if Embiid is sidelined, PTH’s Glen Willis examined their potential approach. In total, Philadelphia was 39-12 in games featuring Embiid and just 10-11 with him off the court.
Atlanta’s defense was, of course, excellent in the opening round, holding the Knicks to just 1.02 points per possession. If Embiid plays, the Hawks do have a quality option against him in Clint Capela, though Atlanta will face a superior cast of offensive players when compared to the Knicks, headlined by Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry.
The most prominent injury listing for the Hawks is starting small forward De’Andre Hunter, who is listed as questionable with right knee soreness. Hunter was listed as probable in advance of Game 5 against the Knicks, and this is the same knee that kept him sidelined for an extended period of time this season.
Kris Dunn (non-covid illness) is listed as out, with Brandon Goodwin (out for season) and Cam Reddish (Achilles) remaining sidelined for the Hawks to begin the series.
On a more encouraging note, the Hawks announced on Saturday that Reddish has progressed to full participation in the team’s practices the last two days, including live play. From there, he is scheduled to participate in upcoming five-on-five full-court scrimmages, indicating he could be nearing a return after last appearing in a game on Feb. 21.
For Philadelphia, Embiid is officially listed as questionable.
As of late Saturday evening, the Hawks are listed as 2.5-point underdogs. That number could swing based on the ultimate availability of Embiid (or Hunter), though, and the current line may represent something of a hedge based on injury uncertainty. Regardless, the relatively small point spread on the road could be seen as encouraging through the viewpoint of Atlanta’s perceived chances in the series.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, June 6, 1:00 pm ET
Location: Wells Fargo Center
Radio: 92.9 The Game (Atlanta); Hawks Radio Network
Streaming: Watch ESPN