ESPN's Stephen A. Smith thinks the Sixers will beat the Hawks and advance to an Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Nets.
He’s not so sure they’ll get there, though, as he explained on the latest episode of Takeoff with John Clark.
“I have the Sixers in seven, but I say that with some degree of trepidation,” Smith said on the podcast. “The Sixers are going to have to reclaim home-court advantage in Game 3 or 4. They can’t come back to Philadelphia down 3-1. They won’t beat Atlanta three straight. If they lose both of these games, they lose the series, just like if they’d lost last night and gone down 0-2, they would’ve lost this series. But they showed up. (Joel) Embiid was big time. … Big-time performance by Shake Milton in that second half. That’s what they’re going to need as this series progresses, because Atlanta is going to make some of those shots that they missed.
“Embiid, he might get 40 every night, but you can’t rely on Shake Milton to do that every night. And you can’t expect Ben Simmons to spend so much time defending Trae Young, because Trae Young might figure out how to get him in foul trouble the way he figures out how to get everybody else in foul trouble. So all of those things you take into consideration, and you reach the conclusion that the Sixers should win this series, but Atlanta is a team to be reckoned with because they have better shooters and they have a better bench thus far. We’ll see what happens.”
The Hawks had a 32-0 halftime advantage in bench points Tuesday night before Milton turned the tide in the Sixers’ Game 2 win.
The Sixers shot 37.4 percent from three-point range during the regular season, while the Hawks were at 37.3 percent. Atlanta attempted 3.3 more long-range shots per game and had a big edge beyond the arc in their Game 1 victory, converting 20 of 47 threes.
Though Smith believes the Sixers can defeat the Hawks, he thinks they have no chance against Brooklyn.
“The ride ends there,” he said. “They ain’t beating the Brooklyn Nets. I can assure you of that.”
The Nets hold a 2-0 series lead over the Bucks. James Harden hurt his right hamstring in the first minute of Game 1 and has been ruled out for Game 3, but his injury doesn’t worry Smith much.
“I think with James Harden banged up — as lethal as Brooklyn is — I think Utah and the Clippers especially can give them a run for their money,” he said. “They’re both ultra-talented teams who can amp things up defensively, and who have stars on their squads that can close in Kawhi Leonard and Donovan Mitchell, respectively. So they can definitely give them a run for their money. I don’t think anybody can beat them with James Harden on the court, all three of them on the court together. I think either team, however, could beat the Nets if they didn’t have (Kevin Durant).
“The problem is do they have KD. … I think that he’s the greatest offensive force since Michael Jordan. That’s how lethal KD is. He’s just unguardable, and the combination of him on the court with Harden or Kyrie (Irving), let alone both, is a championship connection. So to me, I don’t see Philly being the team to knock them off that pedestal. Philly to me is limited offensively because of Ben Simmons. … Ben Simmons is the reason this team will not win the title this year. I truly believe that.”
You can listen to the full podcast below: