The rowdy and raucous crowd in Madison Square Garden did not seem to affect the Atlanta Hawks much in the first-round of the playoffs and in Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the crazy crowd in Philly did not seem to bother the Hawks either!
Not only did the Hawks come out of the gates hot, shooting 16-22 (72.3%) from the floor in the first quarter, including 6-12 (50%) from three-point range, but they dropped 42 points after one quarter on the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that has been known to be one of the better defensive teams in the league all season long.
The Hawks’ 42-point first quarter was the second-highest scoring first period in Hawks franchise history, only trailing the 1995-96 Hawks team that scored 44 points on the Orlando Magic in the first quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Trae Young put together yet another fantastic postseason game in just his sixth postseason game ever and the 76ers just had no answers for the Hawks’ offense until there was about 2 or 3 minutes left in the entire game! Trae Young finished with 35 points on 11-23 shooting, 4-11 shooting from deep, and had 10 assists as well, giving him his third ever playoff double-double.
With this performance, Trae Young became the the second player in NBA history to score 30 points in each of his first four career playoff road games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor when he played for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970 (per @ESPNStatsInfo).
After taking down the 76ers 128-124 on their home court in Game 1, the Hawks now lead the series 1-0 and even if they lose Game 2, they have the home court tiebreaker over the 76ers and are in command of this series early on. Things could not have gone better for Atlanta in this game, so let’s take a look at the three biggest takeaways from Game 1 between the Hawks and the 76ers.
Atlanta is extremely balanced because they have so many guys that can score:
During the regular season, the Hawks were the only team in the entire league to finish with 9 guys averaging double-digit scoring numbers. From Trae Young, to Bogdan Bogdanovic, to Danilo Gallinari, to Kevin Huerter to even veteran guard Lou Williams, the Hawks have so many guys that they can turn to for scoring, which is why they are going to be a tough team for Philly to match up with throughout the remainder of this series.
All season long, the 76ers were known to be one of the better defensive teams in the league, but the one thing that made them such a great defensive team was the fact that they would limit their opponent’s opportunities in the paint. The thing with the Hawks though is that they do not need to score in the paint in order to win games, as seen in Game 1 on Sunday.
The Hawks shot 44-86 (51.2%) from the floor in this game, including 20-47 (42.6%) from three-point range. Nearly 45% of their made shots in this game came from beyond-the-arc, which is why Atlanta matches up well with the Sixers. Everytime it looked like the 76ers were getting some momentum in this game, the Hawks hit a three to silence the crowd and take momentum back.
On the road, of course the Hawks are going to have to hit big shots if they are to win more games, but overall in this series, given all of their weapons, they truly are going to give the Sixers a run for their money. While they may have won the regular season series 2-1, Philly never really saw this Hawks’ team at full strength, which is why they struggled in Game 1.
The Sixers were obviously not ready for the offensive onslaught from beyond-the-arc by Atlanta, which is why the Hawks were able to get out to an early lead and hold on through the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.
Assuming Atlanta will continue to “live and die” by the three-point shot, the Sixers will have to make some adjustments to their defense in order to limit the wide-open shots that their opponents got in Game 1. The Hawks have a ton of offensive firepower and if they are left open, they will make the 76ers pay in this series.
The Hawks controlled the pace of the game from start to almost finish:
Aside from knocking down big shots late in the game and shooting much better than Philly from three-point range, the Atlanta Hawks were able to pull off a big road victory in Game 1 of this series because they controlled the pace of the game for about 45 minutes of play.
From getting out in transition to slowing things down in the half-court, Trae Young had this Hawks’ offense clicking on all cylinders early on, which is why they were able to pick apart this Philly defense to get the shots that they wanted. Oftentimes, the Sixers looked confused on defense and did not really know where the ball was going.
They were so focused on keeping the Hawks out of the paint in this game that they gave up numerous open three-point attempts to Bogdan Bogdanoivc and Kevin Hueter, ultimately proving to be a huge difference in this game in favor of the Hawks.
If the 76ers can play like they did in the final 2-3 minutes of Game 1 for the whole game, then they would be perfectly fine against the Hawks because Atlanta looked surprised and shocked by the defensive intensity by the 76ers down the stretch of this game.
With a little over three minutes left in the game, the Sixers switched things up defensively since they were down double-figures and they started a full court press on the Hawks. Not only did this speed up Atlanta, forcing them to turn the ball over sometimes, but given all of the traps and double teams, the Hawks rushed their offense and missed a lot of open looks.
Philly began turning their defense into offense and suddenly, this was a two-point game at one point after the Hawks led by as many as 19 in the fourth quarter! Atlanta was ultimately able to hold on, but the 76ers definitely learned a lot about their opponents in the final few minutes of Game 1.
Controlling the pace is going to be critical in this series and will definitely help aid in determining the winner of this series. If the Sixers can up their intensity on defense and bring out the press at various points in any of the games moving forward, they may be able to take the Hawks out of their groove and regain control of the tempo of play in this series.
Ben Simmons is the key to success for the 76ers in this series:
He may be bad at shooting free-throws, only going 3-10 from the charity stripe in Game 1’s loss for Philly, but Ben Simmons was 7-7 from the floor and set the pace for the Sixers both in the half court and in transition. The Hawks have nobody that they can put on Simmons and feel comfortable being able to stop him, which is why he is going to need to be a factor in this series if the 76ers are to take back momentum.
Simmons is a complete mismatch that the 76ers need to take advantage of on both ends of the court because of his size and explosiveness. Numerous times in the game, Ben Simmons tucked the ball into his body and drove down the lane for an easy layup at the rim.
This is the kind of aggressiveness that 76ers fans have been waiting to see from Ben Simmons and if he can continue to do this moving forward, they should easily be able to even up this series. While he cannot shoot and is not known to be much of a factor offensively, Simmons needs to recognize that he cannot be guarded in this series.
None of the Hawks guards can guard the Sixers’ 7-footer and if they were to put someone like John Collins on him, Simmons could easily get around him from the perimeter. The play of Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris on the offensive-end of the court is definitely important for Philadelphia in these playoffs, but Ben Simmons can give the 76ers that extra jolt of energy that they need on offense.
Against a Hawks team that can knock down 20+ three-pointers in a game, as demonstrated in Game 1, the Sixers are going to need all of the help they can get on the offensive-end of the court, which is why getting to the rim and converting easy lay-ups is something that Ben Simmons will need to do a lot of in this series moving forward.