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Sixers drop Game 5 to Hawks in catastrophic meltdown

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers and Hawks entered a very decisive Game 5 on Wednesday evening. On one hand the Sixers had home court, and a win would allow them an opportunity to close out the series on Friday. This was a very important game for them going in, as a loss would be very devastating to their postseason run as the series shifts back to Atlanta for a Game 6.

Joel Embiid was coming off of a flat performance, in which he shot 0-12 in the second half. The Sixers didn’t do much else to help him, as the offense was static at best with no real flow. Embiid was listed as questionable (like the rest of the series) heading in as a game time decision, but he did indeed suit up for this one.

The Sixers started off tonight’s game on a promising note, with the offense looking more like actual offense. Furkan Korkmaz drilled a few perimeter shots with Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid chipping in. The Sixers didn’t get off to a huge lead at first, however, as Trae Young’s scoring touch was on full display early — with 7 points in the first 3 minutes.

One of the first impressions of this game I had was Joel Embiid looking more like Joel Embiid. He was much more mobile, and he wasn’t settling for jumpers. This was a huge area of discussion after the Game 4 loss, was it his knee injury or just simply an off-game? This game helped answer that question, atleast in my eyes. He hit all of his first 4 shot attempts, forcing Atlanta to call a quick timeout as the Sixers extended their lead 18-11.

Embiid kept torching Clint Capela and the Atlanta Hawks early on too, as he would continue to pour in baskets. I was very curious how Embiid would respond to his lackluster game/the Capela postgame comments and he definitely didn’t disappoint. You could tell he was playing with a sense of urgency early on. The perfect shooting continued, even as Embiid eclisped the 8 shot attempts marker. He had an absurd 17 points on perfect shooting in the first quarter.

The only part of Embiid’s monsterous quarter that I can knit-pick was the fact he got hit with a technical after jawing to Clint Capela. I love to see Embiid playing with this type of energy in a massive game. That was the only “blemish” on an otherwise amazing quarter. He helped the Sixers to a 14 point lead heading into the 1st quarter, up 38-24.

The second quarter started off like most, with a Sixers bench unit plus Tobias Harris. While the offense was certainly... an adventure to say the least, I’ll give them some credit because of their defense. They did well in limiting Atlanta’s bench unit led by Bogdan Bogdanović, as they only had 4 points in 4 minutes of play.

One of my favorite aspects of this game early on was how versatile Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz were. Both of those players are one dimensional, with Thybulle being gifted defensively and Korkmaz having offensive talent. Both players provided solid minutes where they showcased in areas they aren’t typically strong on. Korkmaz had a bunch of nice hustle plays and Thybulle hit 2 threes in this game early on.

The bench actually held the lead in this juncture of the game, which I have to give them credit for. The Sixers can position themselves in a very good place in most games where the bench can atleast hang onto the lead. George Hill, Dwight Howard, Matisse Thybulle, and Shake Milton did just that.

The Sixers defense was downright elite through the first 2 quarters. The Hawks hit 5 of their first 10 attempts from the field, but the Sixers did great in stopping any momentum. The Hawks went on to hit only 5 of their next 27 attempts from the field. This Sixers’ team has showcased tremendous defensive skill and it was on full display early on.

The Hawks even went to the “Hack-a-Ben” strategy at the under 4:44 mark. While I understand the Hawks doing so, I don’t appreciate it from a time perspective. This rule should be illegal if games are going to start nearly 20 minutes after the advertised tip-off time. It’s a weeknight!!!

Ben Simmons went 2 of 6 from the free throw line in the 3 hacking attempts, less than ideal. He then missed two more attempts soon after he got a clear path foul. Simmons needs to shoot better from the free throw line, flat out. Shooting in the low 30’s is just not going to cut it.

The Sixers’ team defense and Joel Embiid’s incredible offensive performance were the main reasons behind Philly’s success in the 1st half. Embiid rolled out of bed with 24 & 10, on 9-11 shooting overall. Talk about a major response game! The Sixers entered halftime with a 22 point lead.

The Sixers started off the second half on a great note getting Bogdan Bogdanović his fourth foul. Bogdanović has been the second option for Atlanta behind Trae Young, and possibly getting him off the floor would have been a huge blow to the Hawks.

A lot of people will focus on Embiid’s huge offensive performance — which does deserve it’s shine and credit. I think one of the biggest aspects tonight was how much more bouncy Embiid looked. He was a flat out rim protector tonight, stuffing Trae Young and Clint Capela numerous times. It was a very special defensive performance from him.

The Sixers offense began to have some hiccups in the third quarter, with them matching their number of first half turnovers (5) within the first 5 minutes of the third quarter. Most of the turnovers came from sloppy Sixers’ passes and more aggresive double teams on Joel Embiid. Even with these turnover problems the Sixers managed to keep the Hawks at a comfortable distance with their lead.

I so far have failed to mention Seth Curry, who continued his good play this series. We’ve already seen how gifted of a shooter he is, but he’s showcased his shotmaking talent well throughout the post season. While it isn’t the most reliable skill in the world he is definitely capable of putting the ball on the floor and making some plays. He amassed a very quiet 25 points through 3 quarters on 7-11 shooting from three.

Nate McMillan took a gamble by leaving Bogdanović in, and it didn’t pay off — as he picked up his 5th personal foul halfway through the period. McMillan ended up challenging the foul call on Bogdanović, but was unsuccessful.

Seth Curry completely came alive at the right time for the Sixers, as their offense was truly beginning to slow down. His off-ball movement was terrific tonight, making Trae Young have to work especially hard on defense.

Atlanta began to restart the Hack-a-Ben strategy at the end of the period, but Simmons was pulled and subbed out for Tyrese Maxey. I’m not entirely sure if it was because of the hacking or due to Simmons playing the entire quarter (or both?).

The third quarter wasn’t nearly as good as the first two for the Sixers, but it was good enough. The Hawks outscored the Sixers by 4 points in the period, trailing by 18 heading into the final frame. Considering the Sixers coughed up the ball a lot, things could’ve been a lot worse.

And of course, things got a bit worse! The Hawks started the fourth quarter on a quick 4-0 run against the Tobias Harris & bench lineup. This lineup failed to produce any points or good looks within the minute and a half span — mainly due to the offense taking the majority of the shot clock to set up. They even tried to run a Harris post up but couldn’t get him the ball until there was 5 seconds left on the shot clock due to good post defense from Kevin Huerter (?). Yeah, not ideal. This prompted a quick timeout from an angry Doc Rivers.

The Hawks went on a 15-2 run, mainly against the bench unit. The before mentioned lead of 20+ points turned into just 11 with 10 minutes left to go. Echos from Game 5 began to ring out, as the Sixers’ offense began to slip. It didn’t take Doc Rivers long to re-insert Joel Embiid, Seth Curry, and Ben Simmons back into the lineup. Seth Curry continued his hot shooting, which was a very welcomed sight. He hit on 2 midrange shots to give the Sixers some much needed breathing room, prompting an Atlanta timeout.

Remember when Lou Williams was a Sixer? Yeah, it was a pretty long time ago. He’s definitely entered his twilight years, but it sure didn’t look like that tonight. He was absolutely torching the Sixers in this period, giving Atlanta’s offense some much needed juice and taking some pressure off of Trae Young.

I’m pretty sure Joel Embiid gave the entire city of Philadelphia a heart attack numerous times in the 4th quarter too. He went for back-to-back dunks, being fouled on each attempt and falling awkwardly in moments. The Hawks managed to cut the lead back to single digits from Lou Williams looking like he’s in his prime and with John Collins hitting a bank shot three with just over 4 minutes left to go in the quarter.

The Hawks sensed that they could steal this game, which prompted more Hack-a-Ben. Simmons hit both free throws (!) which lead to a semi-standing ovation from the crowd. I can’t tell if that’s wholesome or a newfound low? Maybe a combination of both? Anyway, Simmons followed up the next Hack-a-Ben with a pair of misses. Atlanta cut the lead to just 6 points with over 3 minutes remaining.

Doc Rivers pulled Ben Simmons coming out of the timeout. He’s been mostly unwilling to do this in the postseason, so this is a somewhat new approach. Shake Milton subbed in, with Thybulle taking Korkmaz’s place. Matisse Thybulle fouled Trae Young on a three point attempt, which gave Atlanta their first lead since the first quarter.

Remember: the Sixers entered this final quarter with an 18 point lead. They completely lost it. And that’s with Atlanta’s second best offensive player, Bogdan Bogdanović, on the bench.

Danilo Gallinari hit a midrange shot to put the Hawks up 3 with just over 40 seconds left to go. Philly got a rebound and a timeout with 21.9 left to go in the final quarter to avoid one of the biggest chokes in franchise history.

Embiid was fouled on the final possession, where he missed both free throws. Trae Young iced the game with a pair of free throws, giving Atlanta the win in a crucial game 5. They can now win the series at home on Friday, and eliminate the Sixers

The Sixers managed to put together a terrific first half performance and fell into the same trap that they did in Game 4 — where they completely let their foot off the gas and blew their lead. I’m not sure really what to say after this game. This was a crucial must win game and the Sixers blew a completely winnable game in a similar fashion to Game 4.

Seth Curry and Joel Embiid each had 30 points a piece. There was no other player on the roster that had double digits in points. Was it Tobias Harris shooting 2-11 from the field? Was it Simmons attempting only 4 shots and missing 10 free throws? Was it a lack of adjustment from Doc Rivers? Or was it all of the above?

We will all hear about it over the next two days. Whatever you place the blame on won’t change the fact that the Sixers completely blew this game, and it might’ve just ended their season. Where do they go from here? We’ll have coverage of Game 6 here on LibertyBallers. Take it easy, everyone.