The stage is set for the Eastern Conference Semifinals as the Philadelphia 76ers will host the Atlanta Hawks in Game One this afternoon. The 76ers-Hawks playoff history is surprisingly short and one-sided. The teams have only faced each other twice before, with the last meeting taking place in 1982. Philadelphia is dominating the series historically, with six wins in seven games. The Hawks will not be an easy out this time as they look to make it to their first conference finals appearance since 2015.
Philadelphia 76ers vs Atlanta Hawks Playoff Preview
Cruising Through the First Round
The 76ers made quick work of the Washington Wizards in the first round. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook carried the load for the Wizards offensively, but they did not have enough firepower to overcome Philadelphia’s depth. Things got scary in game four when Joel Embiid went down with a knee injury. He sat out for game five and the 76ers were able to clinch the series with a convincing final win at home.
Atlanta didn’t waste time getting here either. Although their games with the New York Knicks were closer, the Hawks took control late and proved that they were the better team. Trae Young put on a show, embracing the hostile Knicks crowd and proving he is not afraid of the spotlight. Young averaged a near double-double, scoring 29.2 points and adding 9.8 assists per game. The Knicks didn’t look like the same team that won 41 games in the regular season. Julius Randle struggled and New York had to rely on Derrick Rose too much offensively.
This 76ers-Hawks playoff series should be incredibly entertaining to watch. Let’s see how they match up going in.
Philadelphia is led by Embiid. If they are to make a serious run at a title, then he will be the one to make it happen. The big man was an MVP candidate for a good portion of the season, but injuries made it impossible to keep that pace. While Embiid is the star here, he is flanked by a solid supporting cast. Tobias Harris will be a key contributor in this series. He averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds in the last series and may need to up that production a bit in this round. Danny Green provides a veteran presence and clutch shooting. He doesn’t have many high-scoring nights, but the number of big playoff threes he has taken means he won’t be afraid to knock one down in a late-game situation.
The question here is depth. Dwight Howard is a quality reserve, capable of defending the paint and gobbling up rebounds in limited minutes. However, if he has to fill in for Embiid and log major minutes throughout the series, the 76ers could be in trouble.
The Hawks have a talented young frontcourt, anchored by Clint Capela and John Collins. Neither are dominant scorers, averaging 12 and 10 points respectively last round. Both will snag plenty of rebounds and Capela should defend the rim well. De’Andre Hunter has shown flashes of his great potential early in the playoffs. He averaged 10 points per game against New York, but had a hard time with turnovers and is the least efficient Hawk in the starting five.
Advantage: Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons averaged nearly a triple-double against the Wizards and capped the series with one in game five. He’s not going to score a ton but will facilitate on offense and be a disruptor defensively. His biggest contribution to this series will be on the defensive end if he can keep Young in check. Simmons’ size will make it hard for Young to shoot over him. The 6-10 point guard has demonstrated his ability to lock down some of the best backcourt scorers in the league. This matchup will be a lot of fun to watch.
Seth Curry is a great floor spreader who will keep the Hawks honest on defense. He can get hot at any time, as he showed in game five against Washington. If Embiid misses time again this round, the 76ers will ask for a lot more from Curry.
Atlanta will need Young to repeat the last round’s efforts if they are going to win this series. With the other great shooters on this team, they can afford an off night from him, but the Hawks will only go as far as he can take them. His running mate Bogdan Bogdanovic can light it up from the outside. His three-point percentage was down considerably against the Knicks but it is reasonable to expect that more shots will go down this round.
Kevin Huerter is another sniper off the bench. This backcourt lives by the three-ball. When they are hot, they can fire off quick runs to build a lead or close the gap late. If the shots aren’t falling, however, things could get ugly.
Advantage: Atlanta Hawks
Philadelphia has a much deeper rotation than the Hawks. Five reserves saw quality minutes against the Wizards and while the leash may tighten as they get deeper into the playoffs, those minutes should help build confidence for this unit. The 76ers bench is guard-heavy and relatively young. Howard is their only frontcourt backup getting minutes and they tend to run with a small ball lineup when Embiid is out. George Hill is the only veteran guard of this group. He has lost a step over the years, but that playoff experience should be helpful for a team that has seen nothing but heartbreak in recent memory.
The Hawks take a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to their bench. Only Huerter and Danilo Gallinari saw significant time last round. Lou Williams is the personification of the Sixth Man award, but his best days are behind him and he only saw about 10 minutes per game against the Knicks. This short rotation hasn’t hurt Atlanta yet, but those minutes add up the deeper a team gets into the playoffs. If anyone gets into foul trouble early, an unprepared player may be thrust into important minutes.
Advantage: Philadelphia 76ers
Coaching and Intangibles
Doc Rivers is no stranger to the postseason. The former Hawks point guard has seen it all by now. He coached the Boston Celtics and their Hall of Fame trio to a title. A disappointing playoff exit for the Los Angeles Clippers led to Rivers getting the boot last season. Not all agree that the loss was all the coach’s fault, but that team had enough talent to make a title run and certainly underperformed. If the 76ers can turn the tide on their recent playoff failures, Rivers will be redeemed as well.
There are some parallels here. After a poor performance and a first-round sweep, Nate McMillan was sent packing only weeks after signing a three-year extension with the Indiana Pacers. McMillan who is also a former NBA point guard has not had the success that his counterpart has seen thus far. Known as more of a transitional coach, if the Hawks advance to the Conference Finals, McMillan may finally get the credit he deserves.
Advantage: Philadelphia 76ers
76ers-Hawks Final Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers in 6
Embiid is listed as day-to-day and his status for Game One is currently unknown. He is of course vital to this team’s run, but their depth and experience make them the favorite in this series even if he misses time. The Hawks handling of the Knicks was a great story in the first round. However, the Knicks did not play well at all in the series. Atlanta won’t have that fortune this time around. The 76ers-Hawks playoff series will come down to depth and experience. Young might be able to win them some games in this round, but they just don’t have enough to overtake the 76ers.
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