Basketball

3 Keys for the 76ers to Advance vs the Hawks

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As I was going on with my day, full-knowing I was going to miss the first half of Game 1 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. I checked in to see the score midway through the second and was absolutely flabbergasted by it, 57-36. I refreshed the app but no luck; the score was now 60-36. With home court and Joel Embiid healthy, it seemed implausible that the 76ers were down that much. Despite the improbable (and circus-like) comeback late, it was too late. The 76ers dug themselves a hole too big and every time it seemed like they were coming out, Bogdan Bogdanovic buried them for good.

There was some good that did come out of Game 1. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons played great and the 76ers did slow down Trae in the second half. But the bad far outweighed the good in this game. So let’s dissect the “bad” from Game 1 and look at the 3 keys for the 76ers to advance vs the Hawks.

1. The All-Bench lineup should never be seen again

You’re a championship team with championship aspirations, yet coach Doc Rivers is still malevolently insisting on an all-bench lineup in the second round of the playoffs. It isn’t exactly surprising coming from Doc as it was something he was doing all season which does make sense. It keeps the starters to play together more and also keeps them more rest — the 76ers starting lineup had the second most time playing together and it was the second-best lineup in the league with lineups of at least 500 possessions. It also doesn’t look as bad since that all-bench lineup is going up against the opposing team’s second unit.

However, in the playoffs, as games get slower and rotations get slimmer, that all-bench unit isn’t playing against the usual week secondary unit they usually play in February. When Seth Curry (the last starter on) was subbed out for Furkan Korkmaz, the score was 37-27. By the time there was more than one starter on the court again, the Hawks led 53-27. With Bogdanovic anchoring the Hawks’ second unit, the 76ers had no answers.

Fortunately for 76ers fans (less so for Hawks fans), Rivers would not go back to an all-bench lineup in the second half. It’s the playoffs. The rotations should be shorter. That decision already cost the 76ers one game and they can’t afford to lose any more.

2. Play the same defense on Trae that was played in the second half of Game 1

I don’t even feel good writing this because it should’ve been done from the tip-off. Trae Young made Danny Green look like Greg Monroe in the Raptors series this game. Yet, no adjustments were made till only the third quarter. Again, I understand the logic behind putting Green on Young as you don’t want Ben getting foul trouble early. But to leave Green alone on an Island by himself was ghastly for the fans and the 76ers. Young would finish the half with 25 points and 7 assists.

In the second half, however, the 76ers did what they should’ve done coming into the game, execute a game plan to slow down Trae. It would ultimately prove to be successful as Young would only have 10 points, 3 assists, and 3 turnovers with a team-low -17. If the 76ers can continue trapping and pressuring Trae and the rest of the Hawks beat them, then so be it. We know if we give Trae space and time to operate, he’ll make the 76ers pay.

3. Don’t sleep on Bogdanovic

A reason the Hawks were never a threat to make the playoffs in recent years was due to their inability to survive without Trae Young on the court. That’s why Bogdanovic is a breath of fresh air to this Hawks team. He is great at anchoring the second unit and gives the 76ers more to worry about on defense.

The 76ers would too often play drop coverage on Bogdan, giving him all the space in the world to shoot comfortably. They decided to give a player that shoots 44% from three and 54% from long mid-range shots of his choice. Bogdan is not Jeff Teague, he’s a really good player. And when he is on without Trae, the 76ers should try to make life difficult for him. Perhaps not to the degree they did with Trae in the second half, but similar attention.

Apart from the three keys mentioned above, there isn’t much else to say. The 76ers are more talented and too big to let this Hawks team beat them. There’s a lot of little things that could’ve been better: 76ers should shoot more threes, Simmons should be better from the free-throw line, and Danny Green shouldn’t let Trae Young burn 18 seconds in the clock. But these things happen and the micro mistakes are only normal.

As long as the 76ers do the proper adjustments and do the three things I mentioned, the 76ers should be completely fine barring a super hot shooting night from the Hawks’ supporting cast. I won’t be missing the first half this time around for the next game, so it’d be fun to see the 76ers put the Hawks in the rabbit hole this time.


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