“Ice Trae” and the Atlanta Hawks had their moment in Game 1, but the playoff ride is over for them as the Sixers took control of the series with their Game 3 win.
But there are still games to play – how can anyone consider this series a wrap?
Well, we could talk about the Hawks’ inability to employ the most basic basketball fundamentals of defense: stop the ball in transition defense, defend the back screen (e.g. Seth Curry springing Embiid for a dunk), or the lack of physical play on the pick-and-roll which led to the “3rd quarter massacre” – the Hawks were outscored 34 to 19 – all of this contributed to the Hawks’ demise in Game 3. But let’s skip to the heart of the problem for the Hawks.
The Sixers are the number one seed for a reason. Their size, athleticism, and physicality are too much for Atlanta to handle.
The defensive versatility that Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle possess allows Doc Rivers to employ the adjustments required to make Trae Young’s passing lanes a web of despair. The 76ers can switch almost any pick-and-roll situation, so the Hawks rarely get any easy looks at the basket, including their coveted 3-point shots.
By the way, those 3-point shots are needed to force Doc into substituting one of those two defenders for a more offensive-minded player, because the conventional wisdom going into the series was that he couldn’t play both Simmons and Thybulle for extended minutes since both of them are limited offensively.
The Hawks are short on wing defenders – both De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish are out with injuries, so that leaves Kevin Heurter, Solomon Hill, Danilo Gallinari, and Tony Snell defending Tobias Harris or Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris share a height advantage over Heurter, Hill, and Snell, and a foot speed advantage over Gallinari. They scored plenty of points in Game 3 – 18 for Simmons and 22 for Harris, and it’s foolish not to expect more of the same scoring output going forward.
Of course, the bottom line is the Sixers have Joel Embiid, a guy who can score 40, get to the line 20 times, and force people to make business decisions when driving the lane. All of this on a (supposedly) partially torn meniscus. Is he really injured? That’s how good he has played.
For Atlanta to nullify Embiid’s effectiveness on the court, Trae Young, the engine that drives the offense, would have to score in the 30’s and get double-digit assists. This just isn’t likely to happen with how Philly is guarding him.