Coping mechanisms are as much a feature of the NBA playoffs as the post-game podium.
“You must have a short-term memory,” said Tyrese Maxey, the Philadelphia 76ers’ rookie guardian.
Maxey was referring to the condition of defending the Atlanta Hawks’ watch, Trae Young, with suffocating pressure, only to see him drain a “Logo 3” from 35 feet. On a broader level, however, this was a recipe for the Sixers after they lost a 26-point lead in the second half on their home court in Game 5 after losing a 16-point lead in Game 4. The postseason is flowing too quickly, and the demands for physical and mental recovery are too critical to linger in humiliation.
Sixers striker Tobias Harris, who had survived a particularly bad night in the defeat, switched off his cell phone. Sixers security guard Seth Curry kept up his routine of watching movies, watching the other postseason series, and going through his workouts. But the only ointment for defeat is redemption.
After the lights in the State Farm Arena came back on at 1:59 in the game after a brief outage that looked like a concert audience waiting for an encore – thousands of smartphones glowing in the dark – the Sixers ended their dominance with a 104-99 Victory over Atlanta.
“Tonight we kept saying ’48 minutes’ to each other,” said Sixers center Joel Embiid. “‘That’s what we have to do and we’ll be fine.'”
The first half was more of a drudgery for the Sixers. Their perimeter shooters went a collective 4-for-15 from beyond the arch. All-star center Joel Embiid was inefficient and first-team all-defender Ben Simmons was fouled. Though the Sixers lived much of the half in the paint, they could barely afford a trip to the Stripe; and Trae Young started for 20 points. Despite everything, Philadelphia was only halfway back 51-47.
Coming out of the locker room, the high-level defense of the Eastern Conference got to work. Her 14-0 run at the beginning of half was as much a product of her defense as Curry’s shooting performance. Trae Young, who spent the first half north-south and tormented the Sixers with his praise, found himself pushed out and sidelined. In the second half, Young scored five field goals, a single trip on the line, and flipped the ball four times.
After two humiliating breakdowns, the Sixers buckled. Embiid was still frustrated, but he had the offensive lens and kept the Hawks off balance by commanding the doubles team. Harris came to the edge several times. And Maxey made an important defense against Young, streaking a losing three for both teams in the fourth quarter.
Now the best home team in the East will host Game 7 on Sunday, after six games in which both a robust defense and individual offensive outbursts were recorded. Multiple defensive strategies have been used against Young, while the Hawks have attempted to send multiple defenders to Embiid with mixed success.
Opponents know each other’s tendencies well after two weeks of fighting, which makes Game 7 more execution than creativity.
Based on the Sixers win on Friday night, here are a few key factors that could prove to be crucial:
Can the Sixers get Ben Simmons going?
Simmons holds the title of Sixers Point Guard, but his skills have more in common with Draymond Green than with Chris Paul. Simmons ranks among the 19 players in this series with at least 10 field goal attempts in the half field dead last in shots per possession in the half field, according to Second Spectrum. It will be a while before Simmons joins his fellow All-Star colleagues in the position of feasting jumpers from tall screens, the Sixers would help themselves by offering some options for him as a cutter or with some short pick- and rolls find finding closer to the tire. However they do it, the Sixers could use more production from a man who can offer it – while the opportunity persists.
Does Trae Young have another one in her?
Atlanta had its devastating drag screen up and running early on, producing alley oops for Hawks Center Clint Capela as well as space for Young to shoot from a distance at the lanky Sixers defenders. But size can bother Young – and it has that in this series. Against Simmons, he only generates 0.97 points per chance of picks (his regular season output was 1.06 points per chance). The Hawks enjoyed their moments during the series but will need the double drag buzz on Sunday if they want a series win – Collins and Capela slow Simmons down, then pop and dive respectively. The Hawks will likely function in smaller, large staggering screens as well – and they will also need their archers to drain some of the looks generated by their primary actions.
Can Joel Embiid overwhelm Atlanta?
Capela was one of the better rim protectors in the league this season, but struggled to contain Embiid in one-on-one (who doesn’t). Embiid has worked wonderfully against double teams at times, with timely kickouts that send the ball around the perimeter and into the hands of the Sixers’ shooters. Philadelphia just doesn’t have a perimeter player that requires that kind of attention. Using Embiid in both low and dribbling handoffs and as a screener for Curry will have a nice decongestant effect – Curry and Embiid as a perimeter combination gave the Sixers a nice offensive. With curry sizzling lately, this could be a strong source of pressure on the Hawks’ defenses.
Can Atlanta Find Philadelphia’s Sagittarius In Transition?
There’s no good reason Curry should slap the entire Hawks unit into its place on the wing after a failure in Atlanta, having just hit two consecutive 3-pointers. This is one of the most basic principles in high-level basketball, but the Hawks couldn’t bother to stick to it on Friday night. Curry scored 11 of his 24 points in Game 6 in transition and received four undisputed views from 3-point distance, three of which he met, according to ESPN Stats & Information. After Curry burned them to build a lead in the third quarter, Furkan Korkmaz came into play and stormed in front of Atlanta’s ineffective transition D after a live ball envelope for his own clean look from a distance. In total, the Sixers got eight undisputed field goal attempts on Friday and turned seven of them. A couple of youthful indiscretions are one thing, but a team with little post-season experience can’t afford to be marginally beaten if they want to win a Game 7 on the road.
Atlanta is already thin on the wings, with Cam Reddish’s extended absence, the loss of DeAndre Hunter and now possibly Bogdanovic who left Game 6 with a pain in his right knee. While he didn’t shoot well on the series, he’s crucial to the distance that provides fertile ground for their pick-and-roll attack. Behind him appear the Hawks with Lou Williams, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell. Although he scored some big shots in Atlanta’s furious comeback in Game 5, Williams is a defensive sieve best used in short bursts against opposing bank units. And neither Hill nor Snell were offensively productive. Kris Dunn, who has spent much of the year recovering from ankle surgery, is available for the Hawks. Dunn is a top-tier perimeter defender with All-NBA potential, but he only played 45 minutes in the regular season and three in the postseason. Whatever the eventuality, the Hawks will be eager to meet it.
Can Tobias Harris deliver some juice?
After a miserable game 5, Harris was effective in the win on Friday and scored 24 points in 9-on-20 shooting from the field despite initial foul problems. “I thought in the last two games he had found his way back to that old sluggish ball hold,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers after Game 6. “Tonight it was fast. There were attacks. It went downhill. This is it. ” Harris is vital to the Sixers, in large part because their main wings, while good long-range shooters, aren’t classic creators, nor does Simmons have a lot to do for himself in that role in the backcourt. Creativity is the product of energy and dies at a standstill. At worst, Harris can be a ball stopper in this regard. Best of all, when crucial, he can find good looks on a dribble or two and exploit his size in mismatches – something he emphasized as a goal in Game 7. The Sixers should be careful not to get too iso-heavy, but Harris remains their most versatile 1-to-4. If he is selectively aggressive on Sunday, the Sixers can take advantage of Atlanta’s helpers.
The Sixers have been in their process for several years while the Hawks have quickened theirs. None of the current incarnations made it to the finals of the Eastern Conference, but one of these conversions will finally create something worth celebrating on Sunday.