Tonight, the Sixers defeated the visiting Atlanta Hawks 118-102 in game 2 of the teams’ semifinal matchup. Philadelphia’s win evened the series at 1-1.
Coming into the game, two key questions hung in the air for Doc Rivers’ squad: How will the Sixers defend Trae Young more effectively? and How can they survive minutes from the bench?
The first question was answered quite simply: sic Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons on him. I’ll be interested to see how the matchup data stacks up tomorrow, but to my eye, Young could barely do a thing with Simmons nearby. The Sixers defended Young’s pick-and-rolls much more effectively, and Simmons’ length and instincts helped to vastly limit the guard’s isolation scoring. Matisse Thybulle took on the matchup when Simmons didn’t. While he still did well overall guarding Young, Thybulle needs to find a way to avoid the (dubious) foul calls that Young has grifted off of him in the first two games. Overall, Young was 6/16 from the field and 1/7 from three tonight. Job well done.
The second question seemed to be headed toward another shrug, as the Sixers’ bench unit was gashed by Atlanta in the first half. To his credit, Rivers excised the all-bench lineup from the rotation, instead opting for a Tobias Harris-plus-bench unit, which unfortunately got killed in the first half, as the Sixers’ bench did not score a single point through halftime. That all changed in the second half, as Rivers went to exiled guard Shake Milton for some juice, and boy did he bring it. He went for 14 points in 14 minutes, 4/5 from three (including a 30-foot bomb as the 3rd quarter buzzer sounded) and a game-high +15. Credit of course to Shake for staying ready and showing up, but also to Doc for opting for shake over the struggling Tyrese Maxey in the second half. The second half bench stint also saw much improved minutes from Dwight Howard and George Hill.
For the Sixers, MVP 2nd place finisher Joel Embiid was simply marvelous. He totaled 40 points on 25 shots, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block in 35 minutes. The Hawks’ Clint Capela — who had an excellent year and is a really good defensive player — cannot do anything with Joel.
Tobias Harris got off to a rollicking start with 16 points in the first quarter. He was hobbled a bit to begin the second half — something to watch, potentially. He finished with 22 points in 37 minutes.
Seth Curry continued his hot playoff shooting as he went 5/6 from three en route to 21 points.
Simmons had a quiet game, offensively, scoring only 4 points but dishing 7 assists. With about 3 minutes remaining and desperate for any sort of spark, Hawks coach Nate McMillan went with hack-a-Ben, and Simmons came up empty in his two attempts. Somewhat notably, Rivers then took Simmons out (after scoffing at the notion in the Wizards series), before re-inserting him when the game had less than 2 minutes remaining (when the ‘Hack-A’ strategy was no longer unavailable).
It was a really solid team win by the Sixers — the arena sounded incredible tonight. Here are a couple fun clips.
Here’s the mic’d up version of Embiid supporting Shake & Dwight: pic.twitter.com/7EXNSBhddM— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) June 9, 2021
Next up: game 3 in Atlanta on Friday night. See you then, Sixers fans.