The Philadelphia 76ers have won the last two games of their second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks in commanding fashion, setting them up with a chance to take a 3-1 series lead in Game 4 on Monday night. The Sixers secured a 127-111 victory in Game 3, led by another dominant two-way performance from Joel Embiid, efficient outings from Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons, improved bench production, and overall crisp execution at both ends of the floor.
The Sixers’ defense has looked far better since making some key adjustments in Game 2. Ben Simmons has taken on the Trae Young assignment along with Matisse Thybulle’s help, and a more aggressive approach against the Hawks’ pick-and-rolls and double drags has been implemented with added switching and Embiid coming up high against more screens.
Matisse Thybulle also said at practice on Sunday that it’s been a point of emphasis since Game 1 to limit the Hawks’ three-point attempts. The Sixers did exceptionally well in this regard in Game 3, holding the Hawks to just 23 three-point attempts (they made 6) as they rotated and closed out well, and covered the corners effectively.
The low point of Game 3 for the Sixers was Danny Green suffering a right calf strain, and the team has now confirmed that he will be re-evaluated in two weeks. For now, the Sixers should be able to handle their matchup against Atlanta without him. The larger issue is if they advance and Green misses multiple games in the Eastern Conference Finals. At that point against a top opponent, adjusting without Green’s defense and high-volume three-point shooting is obviously much harder to manage.
When Doc Rivers was asked at Sunday’s practice about what he’s looking for in the starter in Green’s absence, at first he jokingly replied, “a 76er.”
“Being honest, without joking, it is a decision we’re going to have to make on what’s more important: the extra defender or the extra floor spacer,” Rivers explained. “That was one of the things with Danny. Danny was so good defensively in a lot of cases that you got a little bit of both. So we’ve got to make that decision.”
Rivers did say that he pretty much knows who will be starting for Green, but unsurprisingly wouldn’t reveal who yet.
When considering Rivers’ labels of “defender” or “floor spacer” and how he generally prefers to keep ball-handlers like George Hill and Shake Milton on the bench, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz are logical choices. Thybulle has been important all series with his defense on Trae Young, but Korkmaz has picked up his play lately. After only playing a total of 17 minutes and scoring 7 points over the first two games, Korkmaz helped fill in for Green in Game 3 by playing 27 minutes and adding 14 points off the bench. Korkmaz continued to show his improved defense as well with his rotations and better knack for getting into passing lanes, and looks ready to help chip in while Green is out.
One tweak the Sixers have made on offense is targeting Young more and pushing the pace to find mismatches on him in transition. Whether the Hawks try something similar against the Sixers’ weaker defenders (like Seth Curry and Korkmaz, if the latter starts or at least continues playing heavier minutes) more often now that Green is out of the lineup is something to monitor.
With their performance over the last two games, successful defensive adjustments, Harris’s stellar scoring efficiency (he’s shooting 17-of-19 in the restricted area in the series), and Embiid’s dominance at both ends of the floor leading the way, the Sixers look like they’re in good shape to carry their momentum into Game 4. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks try to adjust and respond.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks
When: 7:30 pm ET, June 14
Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA
Watch: TNT, TNT OT
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic