The Atlanta Hawks lost to the Philadelphia 76ers at home 104-99 on Friday with the chance to close out their second-round series, but there’s still hope to be had for them.
Here are three keys for the Hawks to steal Game 7 in Philadelphia to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Take the fight to Joel Embiid in the paint
Credit the oft-injured Joel Embiid for fighting through his latest ailment like a champ, as he’s clearly been bothered but a bum knee of late. That hasn’t stopped Embiid from dominating, which to some degree, must be discouraging for Atlanta to this point.
Having said that, the Hawks can’t relent. They must continue bringing all the smoke at Embiid and attack the rim as much as possible.
Trae Young has been excellent at this, but Atlanta should also dump it down to Clint Capela and let him bang away on Embiid on the lower block more. John Collins also needs to keep his aggression activated, as opposed to settling for too many jumpers.
The more physical and tenacious these hungry Hawks can be, the more difficult it will be on Embiid to maintain his elite level of play, particularly in the heightened atmosphere of a Game 7.
Lackluster shot-making was more to blame for Atlanta’s loss than its efforts to hassle Embiid on Friday, as the big man was just 9-of-23 shooting and had eight turnovers. What the Hawks do need to prevent is Embiid getting seven offensive rebounds like he did in Game 6.
Trae Young must author a career-best performance
Yes, Trae Young has been impressive in the 2021 NBA playoffs, yet the fresh face of the Hawks’ franchise actually hasn’t gone full-on bonkers in a postseason contest just yet.
Consider this: For all the greatness he’s flashed in these playoffs, including a playoff career-high 39 points in Game 5, Young entered Friday shooting just 42.5% in five games against the Sixers, and hit only 13 of 30 attempts from the field in Game 6 (43.3%).
For Young to lift Atlanta to the NBA’s Final Four, he needs to put on one of the white-hot streaks of 3-point magic we’ve seen from him in the past. It may not be enough to just keep going to the rack when whistles are bound to be fewer in this series’ rubber match.
Any help from the Hawks’ supporting cast will be welcomed. However, this is Young’s chance to prove he is ready to be a championship-caliber player. He’ll be instrumental in attacking the paint against Embiid, which he’s already done with tremendous success in this series.
Game 7 will hinge on whether or not Young is firing on all cylinders with his jump shot. If he is, the Sixers are in serious trouble.
Continue to get into Ben Simmons’ head
Because of Ben Simmons’ grotesque free throw struggles, he’s become an absolute basket case on the hardwood — pun intended.
I’m not rooting against Simmons. It’s just painfully obvious he needs to polish up in a big way at the foul line, work tirelessly on his perimeter shot and maybe even seek out a trade to get a fresh start in a new NBA city.
Look, the Hawks are playing with house money. Few people thought they’d even get out of the first round against the New York Knicks, never mind push top-seeded Philadelphia to the brink of elimination.
Embiid and Tobias Harris can only do so much. Simmons needs to step up, and frankly, the Sixers’ rowdy fans are starting to turn on him. If he’s stinking up the joint in Game 7, Simmons will really feel the wrath of the Philly faithful.
Young can talk trash. If the Hawks are trailing, they can deploy the Hack-a-Ben strategy that worked wonders in their Game 5 rally. Atlanta can play egregiously loose defense on Simmons and dare him to take a jump shot. Should he long to crash the lane, the Hawks can foul him hard and remind him of his woes from the charity stripe.
Look at all the ways Atlanta can rattle Simmons. No basketball player on the planet will be under more scrutiny than Simmons in this series decider. The Hawks should do all they can to exploit that fact.