East semis preview: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks

Published June 6, 2021, 7:40 AMJon Carlos Rodriguez

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will be challenged by an Atlanta Hawks team with nothing to lose.

It’s dream versus reality in the second round matchup between the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

After missing the playoffs for the last three years, the Hawks didn’t only survive the first round, they put a stamp on their series against the favored New York Knicks.

They’re living the dream now: a fifth seed with nothing to lose against the top seed in the East.

For the Sixers, they’re about to face the sad reality of a playoff run with an unhealthy Joel Embiid, who hurt his knee against the Washington Wizards and sat out most of Game 4 and the entirety of Game 5.

He’s day-to-day and is expected to suit up at some point, but obviously at a less than a hundred percent.

Will the dream run continue for the Hawks or will the Sixers’ get over the reality of a hurt Embiid carrying them to the finals?

Most compelling storyline

Embiid’s knee injury will be on the microscope from here on out, but on a bigger microscope complete with good lighting is Ben Simmons.

Simmons has been a huge complementary piece to Embiid in the regular season, but in long stretches without the MVP candidate, Simmons was able to hold his own.

In the Game 5 clincher versus the Wizards sans Embiid, Simmons dropped a triple-double with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Facing an equally bucket powerhouse team like the Hawks, Simmons and the Sixers’ support crew will be put to the ultimate test. 

If Simmons continues his dominant run against the Hawks’ defense, it will buy the Sixers more time to rest Embiid. They’ll need Embiid at 100 percent for either the Milwaukee Bucks or the Brooklyn Nets. Or, if not that, Simmons will have to be at his 101 percent. Game 5 was a good sign.

Trae Young, on the other hand, is writing a legend of his own. After his personal dismantling of the whole city of New York, it’ll be fun to see how would keep it going versus Philly.

Pressure is off and no more surprises now. That makes Trae more dangerous than ever.

Keep an eye on…

Again, if the Sixers are hobbled inside because of Embiid, then watch out for John Collins and Clint Capela.

If Trae is able to slither his way around the floor and attract the defense (as we saw in New York), Collins and Capela might be catching lobs left and right.


The most exciting thing to watch in this series—and what could be the series-decider—is the hot shooting.

The Hawks have Bogdan Bogdanovic while the Sixers have Seth Curry. Once they shoot the lights out, the series will most definitely catch fire.

Winning Blueprint 

For the Sixers to win, they will have to rely on Simmons taking the keys and being the designated driver to take them to the next stop. Trae Young, although it seems impossible now, should be controlled at some level. Playoff experience in Doc Rivers, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard will also help the Sixers in keeping steady.

For the Hawks to win, a lot more has to happen than pure Ice Trae. If they’re able to stick to the slow-paced, passing game to find the open man, then they will have a big shot come winning time. That’s when Trae performs best.

All factors considered, the Sixers have the best record in the East for a reason. It’s their series to lose.