The Sixers have reclaimed home-court advantage.
They snapped the Hawks' 13-game winning streak at State Farm Arena on Friday night with a 127-111 victory, taking a 2-1 lead in their second-round playoff series.
Joel Embiid was special yet again. He had 27 points on 7-for-14 shooting, nine rebounds, eight assists and three blocks.
Ben Simmons recorded 18 points and seven assists, while Tobias Harris had 22 points and eight rebounds.
Game 4 will be Monday night in Atlanta. Below are three observations on the Sixers' Game 3 win:
Embiid excellent despite injury scares
The Hawks sent harder, more regular double teams at Embiid, bringing help from the baseline and swarming him on just about every touch. Atlanta wasn’t averse to the occasional triple team. That approach seemed inevitable after Embiid’s 79 points over the series’ first two games.
Embiid didn’t have many clear-cut chances to score besides capitalizing when the Hawks’ defense was overzealous and drawing free throws. He stayed poised and made smart decisions, committing just one turnover.
“They’re not going to leave me alone," Embiid said. “They’re going to come as soon as the ball is in the air towards me. That means one of my teammates is open. … In those situations, I don’t get rushed anymore. I just try to make the best play possible. And even if I’ve got to get a shot off for myself, there’s so many ways I can do it, even while being double teamed, and I feel extremely confident shooting over double teams."
For the series, Embiid has scored 106 points on 60 field-goal attempts. His ability to pile up free throws is invaluable.
Embiid grabbed at his left knee and hopped up and down after snagging a rebound early in the third quarter. He remained in the game, though he appeared to wince following an alley-oop dunk a couple of minutes later. Embiid was on the ground for longer than usual following a fourth-quarter fall, too.
Harris also had a worrisome moment, hitting his head on a courtside camera following a fourth-quarter drive. He didn't miss any action.
Before every game this series, Embiid has been listed as questionable due to the small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. The reality of the situation for the Sixers is their playoff run is somewhat tenuous because their All-Star center’s health is compromised, and also because he’s a big man giving maximum effort on both ends of the floor without apparent regard for the long term. The Sixers might as well make the most of it while he’s playing through pain.
“It's tough," Embiid said. “There’s really no difference between the first two games and tonight. I rolled my ankle a little bit and I landed on my back. But when it comes to the knee, the torn meniscus, it’s not easy. Just got to keep it going, give it my best shot as much as I can, and give everything I have. As far as getting ready to play basketball, it is tough, but that’s my job. I’ve got to get a lot of treatment, I’ve got to lift, I’ve got to do whatever is necessary to make sure that happens.”
Embiid's pick-and-roll coverage has been stellar. He's the rare 7-footer with the agility and instincts to mix it up, which has enabled the Sixers to disrupt Trae Young's rhythm.
Sixers work around Green’s early exit
Danny Green limped off the floor with 8:15 left in the first quarter and was replaced by Matisse Thybulle. The 33-year-old was ruled out with a right calf strain.
Thybulle played decent early defense on Young despite conceding five points, pressuring him well beyond the three-point line and limiting his opportunities to reach the paint. He also picked up two characteristically quick steals.
He was called for his second foul late in the first period for bumping Danilo Gallinari, though. Unfortunately for the Sixers, Thybulle could not escape foul trouble. He fouled out with 3:23 to go after playing 17 minutes.
It’s not pleasant to watch unless you’re a Hawks fan, but Young is very effective at abruptly stopping, leaning into defenders, embellishing contact and doing whatever else is necessary to draw whistles. The bottom line is the Sixers must adjust to his game and, as much as possible, avoid anything that might look like a foul.
Simmons continued to be the Sixers’ primary on-ball defender against Young, who had 28 points and eight assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic scored Atlanta’s first seven points and finished with 19.
Simmons was at his pace-pushing, tone-setting, defensively elite best in the third quarter. The Sixers made their first eight field goals of the second half, with Simmons scoring on three and assisting on three.
“We just thought he passed up too many opportunities — in the fast break, at the post," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said of Simmons' first half. “And so we told him we were going to come out and feature him on the post, and be aggressive. I always think when you start him out passing on the post, then he gets aggressive in the game. He was great for us. It’s exactly what we need. With his pace and power, it was great.”
The question of whether Simmons’ offensive weaknesses will hurt the Sixers down the line always seems to be a popular topic, but it’s worth acknowledging he’s got quite a few offensive strengths, too. For the time being, he’s helping the Sixers win playoff games.
Sixers’ bench has done a 180
Thybulle, Korkmaz, George Hill and Shake Milton were the first four players off of the Sixers’ bench. Embiid was the final Sixers starter to exit. Harris and Embiid were the two starters to play most with the Sixers’ second unit, and both had nice stretches in that role.
Rivers’ gut feel that Korkmaz could contribute after a rough Game 2 performance proved spot-on. Korkmaz scored 11 points during his first stint. Meanwhile, Kevin Huerter picked up his third foul early in the second quarter and only managed three points after posting 20 Tuesday night.
Incredibly, the Sixers scored the game’s first 12 bench points after the Hawks’ second unit had a 32-0 edge over the Sixers’ at halftime of Game 2.
There’s always an element of randomness and unpredictable game-over-game variance in the postseason, as we’ve seen this series. While it sure wouldn’t hurt for the Sixers to know exactly what they’re getting from their bench every game, Milton and Korkmaz stepping up the past two games has worked, too. Milton followed up his 14 pivotal Game 2 points with six on 2-for-3 shooting in a solid 21 minutes.
“Sometimes opportunity comes and you need to be ready," Korkmaz said. “There’s not going to be a second chance and you just need to step up. One game Shake, one game me, one game Tyrese (Maxey). Every day the name changes but the mentality is the same. Just stay ready and try to take the opportunity.”
Dwight Howard was good offensively, physically overwhelming Onyeka Okongwu, John Collins and Atlanta to the tune of 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting and six rebounds. The Sixers' bench had a 48-32 scoring advantage over Atlanta's.