2021 Playoffs: East Semifinal | 76ers (1) vs. Hawks (5)

Film Study: Hawks had answers for Sixers' defense in Game 1

Trae Young and Atlanta broke down Philly in Game 1, but the Sixers may have learned from their mistakes.

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

After the Atlanta Hawks’ 128-124 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, much was made of the Sixers’ decision to have Danny Green, instead of Ben Simmons, guard Trae Young.

As Young scored 25 points and dished out seven assists in the first half, Green had trouble staying in front of him. Here was one first-quarter possession where Young caught Green leaning toward a screen from Clint Capela and went the other way. Green couldn’t recover …

Trae Young drive

Late in the second quarter, Young rejected another screen, blew by Green, and drew help from Simmons off the strong-side corner. That opened up a simple pass to Kevin Huerter for one of the Hawks’ eight corner 3-pointers …

Kevin Huerter corner 3-pointer

But for the most part, the Sixers’ troubles in defending the Hawks on Sunday were about more than just Green’s defense against Young. And the Hawks seemingly had an answer for whatever the Sixers threw at them … until the full-court press in the last few minutes.

According to Second Spectrum tracking, Young rejected only five of the 67 ball-screens that were set for him. And for most of the first half, when Young used the screen, the Sixers were in “drop” coverage, allowing him to get to his floater/runner …

Trae Young runner

There was an occasional switch. And when Tobias Harris gave Young some space after one of those, Young drained a long 3.

At the start of the second half, the Sixers made two adjustments. First, they put Simmons on Young. But with Simmons picking up two fouls in the first three minutes of the third quarter, they went back to Green (and Matisse Thybulle). The other adjustment was blitzing Young to get the ball out of his hands.

That didn’t really work. For one, Young is more than willing to get off the ball and let his teammates play four-on-three. Furthermore, he has teammates — Bogdan Bogdanovic and Huerter — who can make plays.

Late in the third quarter, Tyrese Maxey blitzed the first screen on a “double-drag” for Young, who quickly got the ball to Huerter. He attacked and kicked out to John Collins for another corner 3 …

John Collins corner 3-pointer

Midway through the fourth, a Bogdanovic screen for Young drew two to the ball. Capela set a flare screen for Bogdanovic, the Hawks got the Sixers in rotation, and eventually swung the ball to Huerter in the corner…

Kevin Huerter corner 3-pointer

Defending isn’t just about the scheme itself. It’s also about the energy, effort and communication within that scheme. And if you’re blitzing on the pick-and-roll, extra pressure on the ball can make it tougher for the offense to get to that four-on-three situation. Later in the fourth quarter, the Sixers forced a turnover when Curry blitzed and Green deflected Young’s pass back to Huerter…

Danny Green deflection

The one thing the Sixers didn’t really try in Game 1 is putting Simmons on Young and not blitzing. Simmons would be better at both challenging Young from behind when he uses screens and staying in front of Young when he goes the other way.

It would be surprising if that — Simmons on Young, no blitzing — isn’t the Sixers’ game plan at the start of Game 2 on Tuesday (7:30 ET, TNT). But that single matchup, which the Hawks will surely be ready for, is just one thing that will help determine if the Sixers can even the series.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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