The Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers are tied at 1-1, but it sure feels like Atlanta is fortunate to be in that situation. The series now shifts down to the south, so the Hawks will be at home for Game 3 and what an important swing game this one is for the series. Even though the Hawks are at home, Philadelphia is still favored to take a 2-1 series lead.
The 76ers are -1.5 at Bovada Sportsbook with a total of 224.5 in the first of two NBA Playoff games on Friday night. It looks as though bettors are tempted to take Philadelphia as we get closer to tip-off, so there is a good chance that this line goes up to -2 or maybe even -2.5.
The Hawks outscored the 76ers 42-27 in the first quarter of Game 1. Since then, the Sixers have outscored Atlanta by 29 points for the series. Atlanta’s fast start proved to be too big of a hole for Philadelphia to dig out of, despite the team’s best efforts. The Sixers really beat themselves in that game, not only with the slow start, but by leaving 11 points at the free throw line in a game decided by four points.
Philadelphia left eight more points at the free throw line in Game 2, but still won comfortably. Joel Embiid, playing with a partially torn meniscus, has scored 79 points in this series and pulled down 22 rebounds. He’s shooting 54% from the floor overall and has made 26 of 31 free throws. He has not been the problem at the stripe and he has been the leader that the Sixers need to advance.
It hasn’t all been Embiid, though. Seth Curry has provided some huge points in a secondary scoring role by starting this series 10-of-15 from three. He’s scored 42 points and so has Tobias Harris, who is shooting almost 60% from the field. The culprit at the free throw line has been Ben Simmons, who is 9-of-10 from the floor, but just 3-of-12 from the line. Maybe Hack-a-Simmons is coming for the rest of this series.
You do wonder about Embiid as the series goes along and about the workload on that knee. He’s played 73 minutes between the two games and is trying to gut it out. He’s been very effective and has been the go-to guy for the Sixers on most possessions. As long as he’s out there, they have a chance to be great. It would still be nice to see some of the bench guys contribute a bit more.
The go-to guy for the Hawks has simply not been as good as Embiid. Trae Young has only shot 43.6% from the floor and under 28% from three in this series. He’s been money at the free throw line and the Hawks have been the better team there overall, but Atlanta needs more scoring from Young. Relying on Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari is not going to get it done in this series.
Young did a good job of setting the tone to a degree in Game 1 with 35 points, but the Hawks were still -11 when he was on the floor. The bench guys provided a huge lift and some big minutes in that one. Young had 10 assists and that big first quarter to help the Hawks out to a comfortable lead, but over the last three quarters, the Sixers adjusted. For Game 2, Young only took 16 shots compared to 23 in Game 1. It was Huerter and Gallinari that combined for 41 points to make the game look closer than it actually was.
Maybe the bench production continues for the Hawks and remains a great equalizer in this series, but maybe not. If not, that means that Bogdan Bogdanovic needs to do more. It means that Young needs to be more efficient. It means that John Collins and Clint Capela have to be better. It is a big ask of those players.
What we saw in Game 2 is concerning for Hawks backers. Gallinari and Huerter combined for such a big night going 15-of-25 from the floor and the Sixers won by 16 and never really broke a sweat in the game. How much better can Atlanta’s bench be in these two games at home?
The burden falls on the shoulders of Young, who is a great player, but time and space have been limited by the Sixers defense in this series.
76ers vs. Hawks Free Pick
Unlike the other game on Friday night, the better team is favored here and deservedly so. As long as Joel Embiid continues to shrug off the knee injury and play at a high level, the Sixers will continue to have the upper hand in this series. Atlanta does run pretty deep, but the Sixers have not been stopped much on offense and have really only been stopped by themselves with the poor free throw efforts. It’s Philadelphia’s game to lose on Friday.
Pick: Philadelphia 76ers