Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers Playoff Preview

Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers Playoff Preview

by June 5, 2021 0 comments

The Atlanta Hawks made things look easy in their first-round matchup against the New York Knicks. The Knicks were one of the NBA’s best teams defensively but they could not contain Trae Young. Young scored 30 or more points three times in the first round and capped it off with a 36 point performance in Game 5, with 18 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. De’Andre Hunter, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and Bogdan Bogdanovic all took turns knocking down timely shots throughout the series and Clint Capela performed well as the defensive anchor. But the Philadelphia 76ers present a different challenge for the Hawks. Unlike the Knicks, the 76ers are great on both ends of the floor. They had the best record in the Eastern Conference for a reason. Young will need his supporting cast to be clicking on all cylinders if they hope to beat the 76ers.

The 76ers dominated the Washington Wizards in the first round. Even with the Wizards having an All-Star backcourt in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, they did not stand a chance. Ben Simmons made Beal and Westbrook work for every bucket and Tobias Harris played like a star. After taking a 3-0 series lead, Joel Embiid suffered a slight meniscus tear in his knee during the first quarter of Game 4 and did not return to the game. His knee is not expected to require surgery until the offseason which is good news. However, he will not be at full strength for the remainder of the playoffs. Embiid’s injury presents the opportunity for the Hawks to pull off the upset.

Series Odds

Series – Atlanta Hawks: +155
Series – Philadelphia 76ers: -190

The Hawks are the underdogs at +155 but there’s some value here. If Embiid has to miss any games then the Hawks will be in a prime position to steal this series. The 76ers are 10-11 this season when Embiid does not play. Without Embiid in the lineup, Young becomes the best player on the court. Young has to play at the same level he did in the first round against the Knicks. He controlled the pace at all times and made clutch plays in every game. Even if Embiid plays in every game, the Hawks have a good chance to win this series if Young continues to play like a superstar.

The oddsmakers must feel good about what they are hearing about Embiid’s injury because the 76ers are still the favorites at -190. Whether Embiid plays or not, the key to this series for the 76ers will be their defense. Young was amazing in the first-round against the Knicks but the 76ers have better defensive players on the perimeter. Simmons, Danny Green, and Matisse Thybulle will all spend time defending Young. Green has been a steady defender for the past decade. Simmons and Thybulle could both be selected to the NBA’s All-Defense team. Young will have his hands full, if he struggles then the 76ers will win this series handily.

Key Matchups

Ben Simmons vs Trae Young

The all-around impact of Simmons cannot be denied. He averaged 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game against the Wizards and played great defense on Beal and Westbrook. He’ll have to play even better against the Hawks. Simmons can control this series with his defense on Young. He is a finalist for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award and this is the perfect chance for him to further stake his claim as one of the NBA’s best defenders. Young is a great offensive player but Simmons can bother him. He’s nearly a foot taller than Young but moves just as fluid. If he makes things tough for Young then the Hawks’ offense will sputter. 

With averages of 29.8 points and 9.8 assists per game, Young played phenomenal in his first-ever playoff series. He controlled every game with both his scoring and his decision-making. Young understands when to pick his spots as a scorer, if the team gets off to a rough start, he puts them on his back and looks to score. When his teammates are hitting their shots early, he focuses on being a distributor. Young gets into the lane at will and he’s the best in the NBA at hitting floaters. The Hawks will have to find ways to free up Young on offense because Simmons plays tight, aggressive defense on the perimeter. Young has to win this matchup in order for this to be a competitive series.

Tobias Harris vs Bogdan Bogdanovic

Harris played great against the Wizards, averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds per game for the series. He scored 37 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 5. The 76ers will need more performances like that against the Hawks with Embiid’s’ health in question. Harris is the 76ers second option on offense but he serves as the team’s top-scoring option. Without Embiid in the lineup, he could be thrust into that role against the Hawks. He’s an efficient offensive player but being a go-to scorer is not one of his strengths. If Harris fails to rise to the occasion then the 76ers are in trouble. 

Bogdanovic was the Hawks’ third-leading scorer during the regular but he took over as the second option on offense during the last two months of the season. He struggled in the first round against the Knicks and missed too many open looks. During the series, he averaged 14.4 points per game, shot 41 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three. Bogdanovic shot 47 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three during the regular season so there’s room for improvement. He is capable of scoring 20-25 points when he knocks down his open shots. With Young dealing with the Simmons on the defensive end, Bogdanovic will have to step up big-time.

Atlanta Hawks X-Factor: John Collins

Collins averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game during the 2019-20 season but his numbers have taken a slight dip this season due to his role on offense not being as big. The addition of Bogdanovich cut into Collins touches but he accepted his role for the betterment of the team. But against the 76ers, the Hawks will need more from him. With a reliable outside shot and great athleticism, Collins has the tools to be a real threat in this season. Harris will be the primary defender on Collins and that’s a matchup that he can take advantage of. He only averaged 12.2 points per game against the Knicks, that will not cut it against the 76ers. Collins adds a different element to the Hawks’ offense when he is playing his best basketball. He is the key to this series for the Hawks.

Philadelphia 76ers X-Factor: Joel Embiid’s Health

Embiid is listed as day-to-day with a meniscus injury. His status for Game 1 is uncertain but he’s expected to return at some point during the series. His health is the determining factor in their success. The 76ers had a record of 39-12 in the 51 games that he played in. Embiid is a dominant scorer and he is the key to the 76ers offense. He shoots well from everywhere on the floor and he bullies big men in the paint. Capela is a good defender but Embiid is a better offensive player. He can pull Capela away from the rim with his shooting ability and that will open up driving lanes for Simmons and Harris. On the defensive end, Embiid’s rim protection and pick-and-roll defense will be pivotal. Without Embiid, the 76ers suffer on both ends so his health will be something to keep an eye on.

Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers 4, Atlanta Hawks 1

The Hawks are a young team with a bright future ahead of them but they are not ready to compete for a championship just yet. The 76ers have been a steady presence in the East for the past four seasons and they look ready to take that next step. Young will have a good series but Simmons’ defense will bother him just enough to get him off of his game. Even if Embiid is only playing at 80-85 percent, that’s still good enough for the 76ers to win this series.

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