2021 Playoffs: East Semifinal | 76ers (1) vs. Hawks (5)
76ers get defensive to force Game 7 in Philadelphia
Philadelphia rebounds from back-to-back tough defeats by leaning on its reliable defense and pushing series to a decisive game.
Maybe it was better that the lead wasn’t so big this time. Maybe the negative momentum never reached a level to where a full panic set in.
Having lost Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals after leading by 18 and 26 points, the Philadelphia 76ers had an 11-point, second-half lead cut to one with less than two minutes to go in Game 6 on Friday. But the Sixers did not break, and they forced a Game 7 (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT) with a a 104-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Seth Curry shot 6-for-9 from 3-point range, rookie Tyrese Maxey provided a big offensive boost (16 points off the bench), and the biggest possession of the night was probably the Sixers’ post-timeout set after Trae Young drained a remarkable, step-back, off-balance 3 to cut the lead to one. With the Hawks getting in each other’s way, Joel Embiid got his easiest post catch of the series and, after splitting two scrambled defenders, tipped in his own miss.
Oof. Huerter set a great screen on Capela on the Sixers' ATO after the Young 3. pic.twitter.com/94CPMYIbnD
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) June 19, 2021
But the biggest game of the Sixers’ season was, more than anything, a defensive victory for the team that ranked second defensively in the regular season. After scoring a potent and uncharacteristic 122 points per 100 possessions through their first eight playoff games, the Sixers have scored just 104.4 over their last three. But they’re going to get at least one more, because they were able to rely on a defense that has been there all season.
The Hawks were held under a point per possession for just the eighth time this season (second in the playoffs). They shot a painful 13-for-24 (54%) from the free-throw line and were without a key playmaker (Bogdan Bogdanovic) for the final 10 minutes. But the Sixers also got some big stops as they held Atlanta to just 48 points on 52 possessions in the second half.
More in the tank
The Sixers had a brutal fourth quarter on both ends of the floor in Game 5 on Wednesday. But their defense was obviously more disappointing, especially because their three All-Defense selections all had some rough moments as the Hawks scored 48 points over the final 14 minutes. Joel Embiid was seemingly out of gas, not jumping to contest a couple of Trae Young drives to the rim.
At the end of Game 6, the Sixers had more energy. And while they have a great team defense, they had to rely on some terrific individual effort down the stretch. Maxey really got things started early in the fourth quarter with a big effort play when Lou Williams tried to take him off the dribble in semi-transition. George Hill came over to help and, when Williams left the floor to kick the ball out to the weak side, Maxey leapt high in the air to deflect the pass…
The Sixers were a little more aggressive in defending Young’s pick-and-rolls on Friday, even bringing Joel Embiid out beyond the 3-point line at times …
Sixers had Embiid come out high vs. Young on 2 straight possessions after a timeout in the 1st quarter. Didn't work out so well. pic.twitter.com/ckGVtlDbut
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) June 19, 2021
So late in the game, Young was rejecting screens and playing one-on-one more than usual. On the possession after the Maxey deflection, Hill kept Young from taking a hand-off from Clint Capela. Then, as Young tried to take him off the dribble late in the clock, Hill did a remarkable job of forcing a tough shot without fouling …
Two possessions later, Ben Simmons somehow blocked Young’s pull-up 3 from several feet away …
Two possessions after that, Young rejected a Capela screen to stay away from Embiid, who was out at the 3-point line again. Young was able to turn the corner on Curry, but Embiid chased him down and made the block that he wasn’t able to make two nights earlier …
The Hawks got within one by scoring 12 points on a stretch of eight possessions with Simmons mostly off the floor. With Atlanta fouling Simmons intentionally, Sixers coach Doc Rivers took him out and played three small guards, one of which had to defend 6-10 Danilo Gallinari.
But after Gallinari hit a 3 over Hill and Young hit that step-back over Maxey, and with the Hawks unable to foul intentionally with less than two minutes to go, Simmons was back on the floor. Embiid tipped in his own miss to make it a three-point game and then Simmons’ size made a difference.
Young went to work on Simmons without a screen, got a half step on him, and tried to bump him off to get to his runner. But Simmons was able to stay with him and force another tough shot …
That was the last possession on which the Hawks had a chance to tie.
Up next: Game 7
The Hawks will have another chance in Game 7 in Philadelphia. Their own defense has been improved over the last three games, making Embiid’s post catches tougher (except for that one glaring exception) and holding the Sixers to just 47% shooting in the paint.
Game 7s can get ugly, and the Sixers won’t necessarily know where they will get their offense from on Sunday night. But they should know that they can get stops if they still have some gas in the tank.
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