The Sixers overcame a dreadful first quarter but could not beat a severely shorthanded Hawks team on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center.
With a 98-96 loss to Atlanta, the team dropped to .500 on the season at 16-16.
Joel Embiid missed an open jump shot on the Sixers' final possession. He had 23 points on 6-for-17 shooting and 10 rebounds.
Atlanta’s Cam Reddish scored a team-high 18 points before exiting in the second half with what the Hawks called a right ankle sprain/left calf cramp.
The Sixers’ Danny Green, Georges Niang, Shake Milton and Andre Drummond missed Thursday’s game because of health and safety protocols. Head coach Doc Rivers said pregame that the four players were “good,” though he mentioned Milton has had COVID-19 symptoms.
Atlanta was in worse shape on the health front than the Sixers. Seven Hawks were in health and safety protocols, including Trae Young, Clint Capela and Kevin Huerter.
The Sixers will face the Wizards on Sunday in Washington, D.C. Here are observations on their loss to the Hawks:
Starting badly with Maxey on bench
Tyrese Maxey returned after two games out with a left quad contusion but came off the bench. Seth Curry played point guard for a second straight game and Furkan Korkmaz, who’d missed the last three contests because of a non-COVID illness, started.
The Sixers’ first five struggled to hit open shots, had numerous defensive breakdowns and set a bad tone. John Collins gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead with a pick-and-pop three-pointer and scored nine of the team’s first 13 points. Meanwhile, Tobias Harris missed three first-quarter long-range tries.
“We started the game out and it was fool’s good, honestly, because we were getting wide-open shots and they weren’t going in," Rivers said. “It still wasn’t good offense. So yeah, we should have taken all those shots, honestly. They were wide-open. But the way we were playing (was) with no force, no energy, no attacks — nothing."
The Hawks held a 17-6 rebounding advantage after the opening quarter, one illustration of their pervasive superiority in the early stages. Though the Sixers didn’t practice Tuesday or Wednesday for COVID-related reasons, it’s concerning that the team has piled up so many brutal starts over the past month.
Atlanta had the best excuse for lacking juice after losing Wednesday night to the Magic, and yet the Hawks were the team attacking the paint and beating the Sixers to just about every contested rebound.
Maxey was the one Sixers bright spot of the first period as he converted two mid-range jumpers, a floater and a three-pointer.
Curry certainly wasn’t incredible at conducting fluid offense but continued to create for himself off the dribble and drain jumpers. He shot 2 for 2 from three-point range, while his teammates combined to go 4 for 25.
Johnson in the mix
Down as many as 19 points, the Sixers got a lift from a bench unit that included Tyler Johnson, who signed a 10-day contract Wednesday.
The veteran guard posted three points and four rebounds in his Sixers debut.
Johnson wasn’t exceptional, but he did show good defensive effort and communicated on that end of the floor quite well for a player with zero games (or practices) under his belt this season. One noticeable play: When he found himself on big man Onyeka Okongwu after a “veer” switch, Johnson immediately made sure the Sixers returned to more manageable matchups.
He missed two threes on one second-quarter possession but didn’t mind firing away when open and made a transition triple on the Sixers’ next trip.
The 14th game of Charles Bassey’s NBA career is far too soon to declare anything, but he’s looked like a player with a future in the league. Bassey again provided physicality and athleticism inside and was again solid defensively. He also blocked a Gorgui Dieng jumper late in the shot clock and displayed nice touch on a short baseline shot. A lot to like in a player the Sixers snagged at No. 53 in the draft.
As he often does, Matisse Thybulle provided momentum-turning plays. He tied the game at 51 apiece late in the second quarter with a fast-break layup followed by an alley-oop slam. Courtesy of Harris, Thybulle threw down another alley-oop in the fourth before the Hawks' defense was set.
Though defense is Thybulle’s calling card, he’s a threat in transition. That’s an area of his game that’s seemingly been diminished a bit this season, partially as a byproduct of Ben Simmons’ absence and the Sixers’ corresponding drop in pace and transition frequency.
Rivers stuck with the same starters to open the second half and they weren’t much better than in the first quarter. The Hawks outscored the Sixers by seven points to start the third, leading Rivers to call a timeout and insert Maxey.
“I thought Max came back and did way more than we thought he could do," Rivers said. “Going into the game, we were thinking 15 minutes. And then as the game went on, they kept saying, ‘Keep him out there, he can play.’ So that was a big plus for us, but everything else was a minus.”
Not so easy this time for Embiid
Fresh off of a 41-point, 10-rebound showing against the Celtics on Monday, Embiid was far below that level to start the game.
He began 1 for 6 from the floor. Second-year center Okongwu (13 points, eight rebounds) was impressive and the Hawks sent smart double teams, though it’s fair at this point to attribute a large chunk of any issues for Embiid to the big man himself.
Both Embiid’s shooting and overall activity eventually went up a gear or two. He knocked down a third-quarter three to cut the Hawks’ edge to 73-69, giving him long-distance makes in 19 of 21 appearances this season. Embiid later canned another important three, an after-timeout jumper in the fourth that put the Sixers ahead 88-86.
Bassey's strong night was especially key with Embiid not having things as easy as he did in Boston. The rookie scored put-back buckets on consecutive possessions shortly before subbing out for Embiid in the fourth.
The Sixers' late 90-86 lead soon disappeared because of Bogdan Bogdanovic's shotmaking. He poured in 10 points within two minutes and 19 seconds, an unexpected clutch contribution on an evening he shot 4 for 17 from the floor.
The Sixers were in a position where such an explosion could hurt them because they yet again played from behind against an undermanned opposition.
“Tonight (Embiid) didn’t play great, but no one else did either," Rivers said. “The shots weren’t there; the energy wasn’t; the pace wasn’t; the speed wasn’t; the passing wasn’t; we didn’t play the two-man game at all tonight. Again, we didn’t deserve to win the game.”