One of the great things about Denny Green’s famous rant is that it’s applicable to any particular team in any particular sport.
The late NFL coach was talking about the Chicago Bears many years ago, but if you swap out Da Bears for the Atlanta Hawks, it fits what we witnessed last night from the Sixers:
“The Hawks are who we thought they were! That’s why we took the damn field! Now, *hits microphone* if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But, they are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook!
That’s the story of Game 4 right there. The Sixers had the Hawks right where they wanted them, but they let ’em off the hook. They blew a double-digit lead and a chance to go up 3-1 and close this thing out on Wednesday night at home. Now this series is going to six games at the very least, which means another flight to Atlanta for a team that could use a breather.
Let’s hear from Doc Rivers:
“We stopped passing. We started the game off that way, then got back to ball movement, then went back to hero basketball. Everybody wanted to be the hero instead of trusting the team and trusting each other. When you do that you usually lose, especially when the other team outworks you the whole fucking game. That’s what they did today.”
The Sixers just didn’t have it in the second half on Monday night.
If you pick up this game at the 5:15 mark in the fourth quarter, with the Sixers down 94-92, this is what they did with the 11 offensive possessions they would have for the rest of the game:
- Joel Embiid offensive foul turnover
- Ben Simmons fouled, splits the free throws
- Embiid turnover
- Embiid fouled on the defensive end, makes both
- Furkan Korkmaz deep three pointer, make
- Embiid three, missed
- Embiid post up, front rimmed
- Korkmaz three, missed
- Embiid fouled, makes both
- Embiid rolling to the rim, miss
- Seth Curry misses buzzer beater to tie the game
They went 11 possessions there with just eight points and only one made field goal. The disappointing thing is that they got some stops, and kept it close, but it’s just not going to be enough offensively to close a game, and when Embiid is 0-12 in the second half, you just shake your head at how that’s even possible.
Rivers stuck with Embiid despite his struggles, which was a hot topic on social media and sports radio after the game, and so I asked Doc how he balances showing trust in his guy vs. recognizing that Embiid might not have it on a particular night:
“Even on those nights you still go to your guys. I’ve coached a lot of games where guys haven’t had it all night, but they’re your guys, and they get it (the ball). The shot we got Joel, I think we would take that shot all night, whether you have it going or not, we would take that shot. That doesn’t mean you make them all, but that was one of the plays I thought we executed extremely well. We got Joel right at his sweet spot and it didn’t go in. We can live with that play, I just can’t live with how we played all game.”
It’s a fair answer, because Doc is right; you’d take that roll to the rim any day of the week, and Embiid hits it nine times out of ten in a normal game.
At that point it was 101-100, Atlanta, and the Sixers had the ball on a ATO/SLOB possession with 16.4 seconds on the clock:
— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) June 15, 2021
That’s about as good as you can hope for in that situation. Harris inbounds to Curry, gets the ball back, and then they get Embiid rolling to the basket off the elbow. Ben Simmons, in the dunker spot, has a chance to attack the weak side rebound on a put-back effort.
“Great look, I just didn’t have the lift,” Embiid said postgame, confirming that his knee was bothering him. “I thought I got fouled, too. But usually, I would go up and, especially for a bucket like that, try to dunk it. You know, try to get fouled and get an and-1. But I just said, to not be able to jump for obvious reasons, it’s tough. But you gotta’ think about Game 5.”
You do have to think about Game 5, and don’t worry, the Sixers will get it done. I proclaimed the series over after the Game 3 win, and it’s still over. They’ll take care of business. If the Sixers do not win this series I will work a 12-hour shift at the Aramingo Avenue Wawa while wearing a t-shirt that says “I was wrong, I’m sorry.”
Trae Young and a missed opportunity
One of the things that stings is that the Sixers got a poor shooting game out of Trae Young and still came up short.
Young only shot 8-26 in this game and 3-11 from three. He still scored 25 points and tossed 18 assists despite having to have his shoulder wrapped and unwrapped throughout the game:
They've got Trae Young wrapped up like Dr. Brown Bear in that one Peppa Pig episode: pic.twitter.com/JpeM4ruwSW
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) June 15, 2021
Young said he got hit there in Game 3 and had soreness in the shoulder. We’ll see if it’s an issue on Wednesday night.
Popping the Kork early
With Danny Green not available due to his calf strain, Doc went with Furkan Korkmaz in the starting lineup instead.
The Hawks also made a change, inserting Kevin Huerter for Solomon Hill, which resulted in Korkmaz and Huerter guarding each other in a like-for-like swap. The Sixers slid Seth Curry over to Bogdan Bogdanovic instead and continued with Simmons on Trae Young.
Korkmaz went for 10 points on 4-9 shooting but had some shaky defensive moments. That’s the give and take of starting him over Matisse Thybulle. Whereas Thybulle gives you some great steadiness defensively, putting him in the starting lineup means you have to stagger appropriately to keep one of him or Simmons on the floor with Young. If Korkmaz starts, it’s easier to swap Thybulle in with the second second and separate those Simmons/Thybulle minutes for that purpose.
With Korkmaz moved into the starting unit, Thybulle and George Hill were first off the bench in a nine-deep first quarter rotation.
One shift here though –
Instead of Harris working with the second unit right away, Doc left the red-hot Curry in the game for a unit that looked like this:
- George Hill
- Shake Milton
- Matisse Thybulle
- Dwight Howard
That group ran for a little bit, then Harris came in for Curry to make that staggered second unit look normal. That’s the look Doc carried into the second quarter, so it would seem as though we’re done with the dreaded “all bench” unit for good.
They later worked Simmons into that unit for a two starter/three bench look, and then Embiid came back in at the 7:43 mark in the second quarter, followed by Tyrese Maxey. So that’s ten deep from Doc in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and it would seem as though the rotation is not going to shrink until the next round, assuming the Sixers can handle their business here.
- The Sixers shot 16 fewer field goals than Atlanta. That’s the product of the Hawks protecting the ball and hammering the offensive glass. The fascinating thing is that the Sixers have been one of the best teams in recent years at limiting FGA and creating volume discrepancies in their favor, so it was disappointing to see how this played out last night.
- That hedge and recover is a challenging assignment for Curry. He’s guarding Bogdanovic in lieu of Danny Green, so keep an eye on how that Trae Young trap/hedge works out, RE: Trae getting the ball out quickly and finding shooters on the wing.
- From Coggin Toboggan: “The Hawks center court logo looks like a bad middle school mosaic art project.” I agree.
- It’s a topic that has really fallen by the wayside in this series, but the absence of De’Andre Hunter is noticeable. Hawks could really use him.
- The refs got it right on the loose ball foul against Dwight Howard. No flagrant-1.
- In this game, more than any game in the series, the refs let them play.