By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
For about the first two and a half quarters, it looked like the Philadelphia 76ers were on the way to a commanding 3-1 lead in their best of seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks.
But late in the third and throughout much of the fourth quarter, the Sixers got away from the things they did to lead by as many 18 points in the first half. They were stagnant on offense because they weren’t moving the ball around as much.
Even worse for the 76ers, Joel Embiid, who was playing in pain from the torn meniscus in his right knee, could not buy a bucket in the second half, going 0-for-12 including a missed layup that would have put the Sixers in the lead with 7.8 seconds in the game.
“It was a great look. I just didn’t have the lift, I thought I got fouled, too,” said Embiid, who scored 17 points in the first half before sitting most of the second quarter to have his sore knee checked. “I should be able to go up, especially for a bucket like that and try to dunk it and try to get fouled and get an ‘and one.’ Not being able to jump for [an] obvious reason. It’s tough but we have to take it back for Game 5.”
Instead, the Sixers were forced to foul Atlanta point-guard Trae Young who hit both his free throws to give the Hawks a three-point. Seth Curry’s three-point attempt send the game into overtime hit the back of the rim and the Hawks came away with 103-100 win to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Game 5 will be played Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center at 7:30.
Sixers head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers was not happy that his team kept the Hawks in the game and eventually allowing them to come back to win the game.
“The game should have never come down to that point,” Rivers said. “We missed so many opportunities. My eyes told me we blew a golden opportunity (Monday). I was really disappointed in how our approach was. … I thought the Hawks were the more physical tougher team tonight.”
Tobias Harris, who has scored at least 20 points in seven straight playoff games, said the Sixers offensive woes ended up affecting his team on defensive end as well. The Hawks had 12 offensive rebounds and outscored the Sixers in the paint 40-34.
“We missed a lot of shots, and they were able to get out in transition and get at us without a set defense,” Harris said. “They got to the 50-50 basketballs a little bit as well. They got to the offensive boards, and they were able to create some extra possessions in the second half. In the third quarter they had 31 points and that’s too many points for our standards in the playoffs.”
The one player outside of Trae Young who was a thorn in the side for the 76ers, was Hawks power forward John Collins who was winning all the 50-50 balls while getting offensive rebounds and a few dunks that came on missed shots by his Hawks teammates. He scored 14 points and had 12 rebounds including five offensive rebounds.
“Give the Hawks credit,” Rivers said. “I thought they knocked us around the floor. I thought Collins was the toughest man on the floor all night. I thought Collins was the guy tonight just hitting the glass, keeping things alive.”
But the real issue for the Sixers in game 5 is to make sure that Embiid can be the dominant force that he has been in the playoffs up to this point even with the pain in his right knee. Monday’s loss just wasn’t his night.
“Even before I went back to the locker room I just knew that I didn’t have it tonight,” Embiid said.