The Sixers collapsed Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center, coughing up a 26-point lead. They find themselves a game away from elimination after a 109-106 loss to the Hawks.
After blowing an 18-point lead Monday night, the Sixers looked well on their way to a Game 5 win. The Hawks kept competing, though, and the Sixers’ execution lapsed terribly as the pressure and possibility of disaster increased.
Joel Embiid scored 37 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Seth Curry had a playoff career-high 36 points.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 39 points.
Game 6 will be Friday night in Atlanta. Here are three observations on the Sixers’ Game 5 loss, which must rank among the worst in the team’s playoff history:
Embiid excellent in first half; Simmons' FTs a problem again
The Sixers’ half-court offense was at its best to begin the game after the team managed only 38 second-half points in Game 4. The Sixers made their first six field goals and 11 of their first 12.
Furkan Korkmaz converted two jumpers, Tobias Harris scored over Kevin Huerter in the post, and Embiid had his way whenever he was able to face up against Clint Capela. Embiid followed up his 0-for-12 Game 4 second half with a 8-for-8 start.
As Embiid has shown time and time again, he’s a mismatch for any defender who attempts to guard him 1-on-1. Capela played good defense in Game 4, yes, but Embiid’s shooting woes appeared to be far more about his torn meniscus and a rare off night than anything on Capela’s end.
Clearly dismissive of the notion that Capela could contain him, Embiid talked some trash to the Swiss center before checking out for the first time and picked up a technical foul. He then asked the home fans for more noise. The Sixers already had a 38-21 lead at that point.
With nothing else working and their deficit at 20 points, the Hawks began intentionally fouling Ben Simmons with 4:58 to go in the second quarter. Embiid cleaned up one of Simmons’ misses by grabbing an offensive rebound and drawing a foul on Capela. Shortly after, a frustrated Capela turned the ball over and then shoved Embiid, earning a technical of his own.
As for Simmons’ free throws, he’s at 32.8 percent in the playoffs after a 4-for-14 game. He made 2 of 4 when hacked in the fourth period. Rivers subbed him out for Shake Milton for two fourth-period possessions.
There are many reasons why the Sixers squandered big leads the past two games, but Simmons' foul shooting is a major one. He's never been a good free throw shooter, but the extent of his playoff problems is perplexing. When the spotlight has been on in Games 4 and 5, he's failed.
Simmons had eight points on 2-for-4 shooting, nine assists and four rebounds.
Embiid, normally a strong foul shooter, missed two with 10.9 seconds left.
Sixers' defense holds up ... for three quarters
Young lofted in floaters and drew contact as usual, but he did not hurt the Sixers nearly as much as in Game 4 with his passing. Following an 18-assist Game 4, Young had seven in Game 5.
Atlanta missed many decent first-half looks, but the Sixers were dialed in defensively. Simmons was a pest on the ball, the defenders that switched onto Young mostly held up, and the Sixers were better than in Game 4 about not straying too far from the Hawks’ shooters.
The Curry vs. Bogdan Bogdanovic defensive matchup kept working for the Sixers, which is significant with Danny Green (right calf strain) sidelined. Bogdanovic was called for his fifth foul with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter and posted six points on 3-for-9 shooting.
Curry’s strong suit is his shooting, but he’s an intelligent defender. However, Lou Williams and Young had some fourth-quarter success against him at a stage when fatigue was surely a factor. The Hawks targeted him effectively.
Overall, the Sixers' fourth-quarter defense was very poor. The Hawks scored 40 points in the period. Hard to believe that the Sixers, a team that finished the regular season No. 2 in defensive rating, couldn't get the stops they needed and hold on to a 26-point lead.
Bench plays big role in catastrophe
In contrast to the first unit, the Sixers’ bench struggled to score early in the second period. Milton had trouble playing through the Hawks’ ball pressure and getting the Sixers into their sets. He also missed his first three shots, including a wide-open transition three-pointer.
Milton had a little of his Game 2 magic in the tank, though, making a leaning three as the shot clock expired.
Rivers maintained a 10-player rotation, inserting Tyrese Maxey late in the third quarter. It appears he’s settled on Harris as the starter who stays in with the second unit and, ideally, generates offense. Harris had a rough game, though, scoring just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. The Sixers obviously required more from their third star, who'd been playing at a high level in the playoffs until Wednesday.
The Sixers’ bench was unimpressive in the second half as well, allowing the Hawks to trim their deficit down to 14 with 10:43 left in the game. Rivers called a timeout and shouted a few animated words of displeasure at his players.
A Danilo Gallinari three cut the Sixers’ advantage to 11, leading Rivers to send his starters back in sooner than planned. They could not hold off the Hawks, who took the lead when Young drew a foul on Matisse Thybulle and made three free throws with 1:26 to go.