The Philadelphia 76ers have 10 players who are listed as 6-foot-6 or taller and in Game 1, that wasn’t an issue for the Hawks, who converted a franchise playoff-record 20 3-pointers in the victory.
The 76ers made defensive adjustments for games 2 and 3, using their size to their advantage and taking a 2-1 series lead in the process.
In Friday night’s 127-111 loss, the Hawks shot only 47.6% from the field, fell victim to three blocks from Joel Embiid (27 points, nine rebounds) and were outscored in the paint 66-58. The Hawks were able to limit Embiid’s points, but it was the supporting cast of Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and Dwight Howard off the bench who put the home team away.
“Their size has an impact on this series, guarding these guys in the post,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. “You’ve got Simmons who is (6-foot-11), posting up. You have Harris who is a really good post player, and of course, you have Embiid with Howard down there in the paint.”
When the Hawks were on offense, Simmons guarded Trae Young, a defensive adjustment that has been beneficial for the 76ers the past two games. Young was still able to finish with 28 points and eight assists, but the baskets were harder to come by than they were with Danny Green defending in Game 1.
Simmons, who finished second in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting, forced Young into three turnovers. If it wasn’t Simmons, Philadelphia would use a double or triple team to put the Hawks’ leading scorer into uncomfortable situations.
Even on free throws, Simmons followed Young around, suffocating him from the freedom that he’s experienced thus far in the playoffs.
“It’s exhausting what we are asking Ben to do, follow Trae Young around, follow him around screens and push the ball up the floor with pace,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said of Simmons’ defensive adjustment. “That’s all we talked about at halftime when my coaches were reminding me when I was yelling at him about playing with pace. They said, ‘He is guarding Trae, too.’ It’s tough, but he’s young, his endurance, so it’s been good for us.”
Meanwhile, for the Hawks’ defense, there were no obvious answers for the 76ers’ length. Especially in the first half, Clint Capela and John Collins were overmatched by the physicality of Embiid, Harris and Howard, who scored 12 points and finished with six rebounds off the bench.
The 76ers’ strategy of pulling Capela’s size away from the paint left the rim vacant for easy baskets that Philadelphia was able to convert.
“I feel like we let them get shots they would like to have and that can’t happen, especially in a playoff game,” Collins said.
McMillan said the team will spend the next two days looking at film and working in different sets to try slowing down the 76ers’ biggest weapon.
Collins noted that the biggest adjustment that needs to be made on defense is communication, doing what they can to combat Embiid and company.
“I wouldn’t say (their size) is bothering us, more so that they’re just a big team,” Collins said. “I definitely feel like the fact that they are bigger and a little bit more experienced might help them in the totality of the game, but we’re all NBA players. We’ve seen a bunch of big dudes, long guys on the court everyday. It’s all about adjustments and how we handle what they’re throwing at us.”
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