76ers Defeat Wizards, Eye Hawks
The Philadelphia 76ers closed out their best of seven series against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night with a 129-112 victory. The effort by the 76ers was inspiring after they lost their MVP candidate and leader Joel Embiid in the first quarter of Game 4. The 76ers were led by shooting guard Seth Curry and forward Ben Simmons, as Curry played like his brother and dropped 30 points on 10-17 from the field, including three for six from beyond the arc. Simmons added 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds and was a game-high plus 17.
The prize for the 76ers for winning this series is a date with the fiery Atlanta Hawks, with Game 1 on Sunday in Philadelphia. Embiid will have a few days to rest in preparation for a big series opener. He’s currently being listed as day-to day with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, but coach Doc Rivers is hopeful he’ll return soon: “I don’t know when or how early,” he said. “I’m hopeful. I think that’s a better way of putting it.”
The way the 76ers match up with Atlanta is quite interesting, even without Embiid. If he’s not available to go on Sunday, one must wonder if they’ll stay small as they did against the Wizards. They started Simmons, Curry, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green and Tobias Harris, with no true center in the lineup. The Wizards employ Daniel Gafford at center, and although he’s a promising and upcoming talent, he’s not nearly as talented as Clint Capela of the Hawks. Capela averaged 10 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in Atlanta’s first-round series win over the Knicks. He also led the league in rebounding during the regular season.
The Hawks as a whole were 10th in rebounding and seventh in offensive rebounding. If Embiid can’t go, Dwight Howard will likely be bumped into the starting lineup, in Thybulle’s place. Will it be enough against a front court of Capela and John Collins? Is the sacrifice in spacing with two non shooting players worth the deterrent in rebounding? Rivers has much to decide. If the 76ers want to win this series, they’ll need continued brilliance from their bench as well. Reserve guard Tyrese Maxey is a rookie, and he was plus 14 in Game 5, finishing with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Rookies usually struggle in the postseason, but Maxey can’t afford to have growing pains.
Furkan Korkmaz and George Hill are the only two other players who will get legitimate run for Philly, and Korkmaz must provide serviceable defense against the plethora of wings for Atlanta, while simultaneously hitting open threes and spacing the floor for Simmons and Embiid. Hill has potentially a more important job, as he’ll be tasked with guarding Trae Young in some stretches. Can he handle that assignment?
This series will be fascinating, and it really comes down to the health of Embiid. If he’s too compromised, the series could go seven.