Going into Game 3, the Hawks have won 13 straight at the A. They were also looking good after stealing a home game from the Philadelphia 76ers. From the first few minutes of the game up until the end of the first half, they continued to look good, exchanging blows, floaters, and 3s against the Sixers.
The first half ended with Trae Young slaloming his way down court, Skills Challenge-style, for a layup to beat the buzzer. The Sixers were up by only five at that point. The game was looking to be one of those wild ones, the ones decided in the final seconds of the game.
Until the third quarter started, and it didn’t.
Ben Simmons came out in the second half a different player. Sixers coach Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid apparently told Simmons to attack and be more aggressive on offense. Attack and be more aggressive, he did.
Simmons scored 11 of his 18 points in the third, leading the Sixers to pull away. Each time they fed Simmons the ball at the post, good things happened.
He got his layups, he found the open man from across the court, he even fed Embiid with a one-handed lob at one point.
This Simmons dime to Embiid was too smooth 😮 pic.twitter.com/G2m40jrvb5— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 12, 2021
It was as if an upgraded Ben Simmons character was unlocked in the third, a 6’11” cheat code that the Hawks weren’t ready for. When the Simmons montage ended, the Sixers had gone on a 15-2 run and the Hawks trailed by 18 points. All that, while Simmons continued to hound Young on the defensive end.
If it’s not Simmons, it’s Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and even Embiid making life difficult for Young. The Hawks superstar still managed to get 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting with eight assists. Imagine what kind of damage he could do if he wasn’t defended by Simmons.
Young is the force from which the Hawks get their momentum, as proven by the result of Game 1, when Young was mostly defended by Danny Green. Doc Rivers had moved on from that mistake, and now the Sixers have won two straight and taken back home court advantage.
Quick Embiid update: he still can’t be stopped. With a torn meniscus and constant double-teaming, yet he still managed 27 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks.
Heading into Game 4, it’s up to the Hawks and head coach Nate McMillan to make the same big adjustment that Rivers has been calling on the fly. The Sixers will be without Green, who hurt his calf in Game 3, but they have more weapons in Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Seth Curry.
Unless the Hawks do something drastically different in Game 4, they’re going to head home early, and it won’t be at the State Farm Arena.