The Hawks lose Hunter. Next man up: Cam Reddish?

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young (11) holds back De'Andre Hunter (12) after a foul was called against the New York Knicks during the third quarter of Game 2 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in New York. (Elsa/Pool Photo via AP)
Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young (11) holds back De'Andre Hunter (12) after a foul was called against the New York Knicks during the third quarter of Game 2 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in New York. (Elsa/Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Elsa

Credit: Elsa

De’Andre Hunter missed 49 of 72 regular-season games, so it’s not as if the Hawks haven’t worked without him. That he played as well as he did in the Knicks series – averaging 10.8 points and 30.3 minutes over five games – showed how influential he can be. That he’s out for however long this postseason lasts is in no way a good thing. I believe this falls under the heading of “duh.”

ExploreThe smallish Hawks are tied with the old-school Sixers

His abrupt loss is another in the annual series of injuries that pockmark the playoffs. Golden State lost Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in the same postseason. Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012 and was never the same. Kyrie Irving missed much of Cleveland’s run to the finals in 2015.

More recently, Anthony Davis got hurt again, leading to the Lakers’ Round 1 ouster. James Harden hasn’t played in the Nets’ first two games of Round 2. Joel Embiid missed Game 5 of Philadelphia’s Round 1 victory with a torn meniscus that remains torn, which means the 76ers can’t feel certain he’ll be available for any given game.

Now Hunter has a torn meniscus. His knee swelled on the eve of Sunday’s Game 1. He had an MRI. A second opinion was sought and rendered. He’s due for surgery Tuesday in Los Angeles.

This isn’t a reason to give up on the Hawks, who split road games against the Sixers without him. Hunter is a capable scorer, but the Hawks have enough shooters to take up that slack. He’s also their best perimeter defender, a commodity that can’t be so easily replaced. In his stead, the Hawks have started the journeyman Solomon Hill. He worked 25 minutes and scored six points in Game 1. He lasted eight minutes in Game 2 and went scoreless. With Hill on the court, the Hawks were minus-28 over the two games.

Hill basically is a placeholder for whomever Nate McMillan chooses as his first sub – either Kevin Huerter, who has been excellent in the postseason, or Dino Gallinari, who has alternated good nights with some less good. Hunter was able to hold his own against the Knicks’ Julius Randle. Huerter isn’t quite as tall as Hunter; Gallinari isn’t as quick.

The good news: The Sixers’ strength isn’t their perimeter. Danny Green looks almost done. Seth Curry, brother of you-know-who, is a shooter. Ben Simmons is a point guard who has logged 29 playoff games without making a 3-pointer. It wasn’t as if McMillan was apt to ask Hunter to take Embiid one-on-one, though Hunter surely would have been part of double-teams, which in his absence haven’t done much good. Embiid scored 39 points in Game 1, 40 in Game 2.

Still, the Hawks led from start to finish in Game 1 and rallied from 18 down to nose ahead in Game 2, when a desperate Doc Rivers turned to the forgotten Shake Milton and got 14 game-breaking points. This team isn’t anywhere near done.

There’s a chance that Cam Reddish – drafted in the same 2019 lottery as Hunter – could play in the series. He has had a sore Achilles. His last action came Feb. 21, so long ago that Lloyd Pierce was the coach. Reddish has just returned to full practices. He’s 6-foot-8, the same height as Hunter, but they’re not the same type of player. Hunter is better on defense. Reddish is more creative with the ball. If he’s available, he would be an upgrade over Hill. He’d be someone the Sixers would have to guard.

Hunter will be missed. How much, we can’t know. Big picture-wise, the annual rash of playoff injuries has become a reason to cringe, though nobody can pinpoint a cause. Is it because the regular season is so long? (The biggest stars – from LeBron to Kawhi to Kyrie to KD – have come to care more about “load management” than non-playoff games.) Is it because the COVID-19 bubble took so much out of some players? (Though not the Hawks. They weren’t in it.)

Ah, well. This is sports. Guys get hurt. Next man up, and all that. Though it would be fascinating if the Hawks’ next man is Reddish.

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