The Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks tipped off their second-round series at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday afternoon after both teams made short work of their opening-round opponents. If Game 1 was any indication, the series promises to be a lot tougher for both teams. The Hawks ultimately pulled out a 128-124 victory, but it was far from easy for them.
After dominating the first 24 minutes of the contest and taking a 20-point lead into halftime, the Hawks had their hands full in the second half as the Sixers made a furious comeback to cut the lead all the way down to three in the closing minutes of the contest. Despite being outscored 70-54 in the second half, Atlanta was able to hold on for the win, though coach Nate McMillan likely won’t be happy with his team’s play down the stretch of the game.
Just as he did against the New York Knicks in the first round, Trae Young led the way for Atlanta, especially early on. Young lit the Sixers up for 25 points and seven assists in the first half alone, and finished the game with 35 points and 10 assists. In the process, Young became the first Hawks player ever to record 35 points and 10 assists in a playoff game. He also got some major help from John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanović, as that duo combined for 42 points and eight rebounds.
One huge question regarding the series was answered before Game 1 even started: Would Joel Embiid play? He did, despite suffering a small tear in his meniscus against the Wizards. Embiid started for the Sixers, played a game-high 38 minutes and scored a game-high 39 points to go along with nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks. While Sixers fans were certainly happy to see him out on the floor, his production wasn’t quite enough to help Philadelphia pull out a win in this one.
Even though they almost gave it away at the end, the Hawks have to feel good about stealing a game in Philadelphia. However, neither team can afford to dwell on this one for too long, as the series resumes Tuesday night for Game 2. Before moving on to that game, though, here’s a look at three key takeaways from Atlanta’s Game 1 win.
1. Trae Young continues to make NBA history this postseason
Trae Young played as well as anyone in the first round of the playoffs, and that streak of strong play continued in the East semifinals. Young came out of the gate in attack mode in Game 1, and his early production set the tone for what turned out to be a big win for the Hawks. Young had 12 points and five assists in the first quarter, and followed that up with 13 points and two more assists in the second quarter. Though he was limited to just 10 points and three assists in the second half, he had already helped the Hawks build such a large lead that they were able to hold on for the win.
🧊 @TheTraeYoung in Game 1:
Young continues to make NBA history with his play this postseason. Not only did he become the first Hawks player ever to record 35 points and 10 assists in a playoff game, he also became just the second player in NBA history to score 30 points in each of his first four career playoff road games. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the other.
2. Injured Joel Embiid looked like MVP Joel Embiid
The biggest storyline heading into the series was Embiid’s health. The big man missed the closeout game against the Wizards in the first round after suffering a minor meniscus tear in his right knee during Game 4 of that series, and he was considered day-to-day heading into the second round. As such, there was some serious speculation regarding whether or not he would be good to go.
Less than half an hour before tip time on Sunday, the mystery came to an end as it was announced Embiid would not only play, but start. He looked a whole lot like his usual MVP-caliber self. He played more minutes (38) than anyone else in the game, and also scored more points (39) than anyone else. He shot 57 percent from the floor, grabbed nine rebounds and added four assists and three blocks. More importantly, he didn’t appear to be too hampered by the knee injury. By the end of the game, he was giving up his body and diving on the floor to make plays for Philly:
The fact Embiid was able to play and looked largely healthy while doing so was one of the major positives for the Sixers in Game 1. They weren’t able to pull out the win, but they have to feel much better moving forward knowing they can get performances like that out of Embiid.
3. Questionable coaching by Doc Rivers in the first half
Coaching is especially important in the postseason, and unfortunately for Philadelphia, Doc Rivers didn’t have his best game on Sunday. Rivers made a couple of questionable decisions early in the game that ultimately doomed the Sixers. The first questionable decision was to use Danny Green as the primary defender on Trae Young for the vast majority of the first half. In Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, the Sixers have two of the best perimeter defenders in the entire NBA, and two players whose length and athleticism could potentially make things difficult on Young.
Instead of going with either of them, though, Rivers started out with Green on Young, and he didn’t alter that approach despite the fact Young absolutely torched the veteran guard throughout the first half. Young continuously drove past Green into the paint, at which point he made the Sixers pay with an array of floaters, lob passes for dunks and kick-outs to shooters for open opportunities. Young tallied 25 points and seven assists in the first half, and although the Sixers switched up the coverage and did a much better job of limiting his production in the second half, the damage was already done.
The other questionable decision that Rivers made was to play an all-bench lineup for several consecutive minutes in the first half. Rivers went with an all-bench lineup consistently throughout the regular season. but doing so in the playoffs is a risky proposition, and it backfired for Philly in Game 1. That lineup was outscored by 10 points in the first half, and that proved to be a major difference-maker, especially since all other Sixers lineups were a plus-6 in the game.