Hawks struggle vs. Philly’s pressure, but now know what to expect

Hawks players Kevin Huerter (from left), Bogan Bogdanovic, John Collins, Clint Capela and Trae Young confer during a break of the 128-124 win over the 76ers in Game 1 of the conference semifinals Sunday, June 7, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton/Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Hawks players Kevin Huerter (from left), Bogan Bogdanovic, John Collins, Clint Capela and Trae Young confer during a break of the 128-124 win over the 76ers in Game 1 of the conference semifinals Sunday, June 7, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton/Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

With as many mistakes as the Hawks made down the stretch in Game 1 Sunday in Philadelphia, they were fortunate to get the win, interim coach Nate McMillan knows.

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The 76ers started trapping on defense and cranked up the full-court pressure for the final few minutes, and the Hawks nearly collapsed after leading by as much as 26 in the first half. They looked out-of-whack and rattled, with five turnovers in the final 4:01 (“Their press, obviously, it did bother us,” said wing Kevin Huerter after the narrow win).

“We didn’t execute at all,” McMillan said Monday. “I thought we were really sloppy, really the last quarter and we know we have to be much better, get organized and execute against that pressure… Down the stretch, we’ve handled pressure before. We’ve been better in situations like that, and we didn’t do a good job of that and it almost cost us.”

In the fourth quarter, the 76ers had four steals and outscored the Hawks 41-29. It was even harder for the Hawks to manage without forward De’Andre Hunter, one of their best defenders, out with right knee soreness (Hunter was limited to shooting in Monday’s practice, and will be a game-time decision for Game 2).

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Ultimately, a win’s a win, and the 76ers can’t sustain that level of defensive intensity for an entire game (nor are the Hawks likely to hit a franchise playoff record 20 3-pointers again this series). But the Hawks caught a glimpse of Philadelphia’s pressure, and got to study the film to better prepare for the rest of the series. Game 2 will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Philadelphia, before the Hawks get homecourt advantage for games 3 and 4.

In Game 2, they’ll aim to execute better down the stretch, taking that pressure in stride, and not get frustrated with it.

“I felt that they just went all-in,” center Clint Capela said. “All bets were off for them, so they just, whoever was closest to the ball was just going and the whole defense was just standing up to get steals and fast buckets. Obviously there’s stuff that we could have done better. We maybe seemed a little bit too agitated at times. We could have taken our time a little bit more. But it’s Game 1, so you don’t really know what to expect. But obviously now that we know what kind of team they are, we’re going to be ready for Game 2… We want to be the team to step up the intensity more in Game 2. That’s our mindset here.”

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After three quarters of setting the pace, taking and making open shots, the Hawks started to think more about the clock, per both Capela and McMillan, which took them out of their game.

That aggression in the final few minutes was actually the playing style the Hawks expected from Philly, McMillan said. The 76ers got off to a shaky start, with 12 turnovers of their own in the first half, and it took it a while to gather themselves.

“We started playing the clock as opposed to playing the game and finishing the game and we had some bad possessions in that fourth quarter,” McMillan said. “The intensity that we saw in that fourth quarter is the intensity that we’re going to see (Tuesday) night. They are going to be playing much faster. They’re going to be much more aggressive defensively. They’re going to be trapping. I’m pretty sure we’re going to see, possibly, a smaller lineup… We got a chance to see that in the fourth quarter.”

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