Sixers fall short of big comeback in loss to Hawks: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (30-20) hosted the Atlanta Hawks (22-29) on Friday. Philadelphia wanted to snap a three-game losing streak. Atlanta wanted to end a two-game schneid. The Sixers made a valiant effort to storm back in the fourth quarter, but fell short in a 127-121 defeat.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Hawks were without the services of Dejounte Murray, who has lower back tightness.
Clint Capela was out with a left adductor strain.
Wesley Matthews and Patty Mills both missed the game due to illnesses.
Mouhamed Gueye has a stress fracture in his right low back and was out.
Kobe Bufkin is on a G League assignment with the College Park Skyhawks and was not available. Seth Lundy and Vit Krejci are on two-way G League assignments and were out.
Quin Snyder started Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, Jalen Johnson, and Onyeka Okongwu.
The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a meniscus procedure on his left knee.
Tyrese Maxey was out with an illness.
De'Anthony Melton remained out as he recovers from a stress response to lumbar spine soreness. Nico Batum remained out with a strained left hamstring. As did Robert Covington, who has a bone bruise in his left knee.
Nick Nurse started the newly-acquired Cameron Payne and Buddy Hield, along with Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Paul Reed.
- You immediately felt Payne's impact on the offense. Time will tell if he's the personality that Patrick Beverley was. We certainly know he doesn't have the defensive chops Beverley did. But, he took nine shots in the first half, three of them coming from beyond the arc. He was reasonably aggressive for someone sharing the floor with brand new teammates for the first time.
But, more than anything, you felt his zip as a ball-handler. He's pretty fluid in his reactions to defenses, quickly accepting the ball from teammates on DHOs and looking for the angle downhill. If you flip it the other way, he's quick to accept that he has nowhere to go and reset the play by giving the ball to someone else so as to not waste time.
He wasn't looking to chuck on every touch, either. Payne felt out the defender in his way, using jab steps to test boundaries before deciding what he was going to do with the ball. It wasn't great, but his feel for offense made things flow better than they had during this nightmare stretch the Sixers have had. That's not to say that Beverley wasn't giving Philadelphia value on offense; in fact, Beverley was a very pleasant surprise on offense. But, he's a bit robotic, and that slows things down.
- Hield's first half wasn't much better than Payne's was, but he made things look much better, too. He couldn't get shots to fall, but he made really quick decisions. If he wasn't comfortable pulling the trigger from deep, he knew to put the ball on the deck and attack the close-out.
It was interesting seeing him handle the ball, as well. Not to say that he can be a legitimate ball-handler or run the offense. But, he can at least dribble without getting overwhelmed by what's happening around the floor. There's more versatility there than just being a stand-still shooter off the catch.
- We'll talk about defense under the "Dislikes" section, but I thought Reed was pretty easily the best Sixer on both ends of the floor in the first half. He did most of his work on the glass, grabbing five rebounds on each side of the glass en route to a first-half double-double. He was there to lock down a majority of the few Hawks shots at the rim that didn't drop. And while the Sixers continued their rut scoring the ball, he helped keep plays alive and gave his team extra chances. He still scored, too. Reed laced a couple midrange jumpers and had final say at the rim a few times.
- Any chance the Sixers had of winning this game against a short-handed Hawks team was if the shooting was good enough to out-weigh the defense. You couldn't have expected much on the protective end of the court when half the team is on the shelf. You throw in guys who never play big minutes and new pieces who aren't caught up and it's very easy to grasp why the defense would be putrid.
And, boy, was it. Pick any Hawk you want, they all tortured the Sixers with untimely offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive. They went right at the rim with Mo Bamba on the court, beating Philadelphia up and down the floor for dunks or easy buckets inside to quell any Philadelphia attempt to build good sequences.
I don't expect you to make every rotation when you're short-handed and playing new pieces a lot of minutes. I do expect you to get back in transition and have some pride at the basket. The Sixers had neither an idea nor an interest in playing defense at any point in this game.
- And if the lack of care inside wasn't the death of Philadelphia, it was the ridiculous number of open threes for the Hawks that certainly was. It was flat-out embarrassing how badly the Hawks shot them off the floor. Players - and veterans who have been here all season (looking at you, Oubre), at that - got caught asleep off the ball all night long, watching the rock smoke the net because they were too far away to offer good contests. And if Atlanta got offensive rebounds, forget it. Bey, Hunter, anyone could get an open look by simply sliding to the corners.
I actually put some blame on Nurse for how open some of those threes were due to miscommunications. At some point, you have to recognize that you're getting lit up largely because of the lack of chemistry. And at that point, you simplify your scheme to neutralize on-ball weapons like Young and tell helpers to just stay home on shooters. Sure, a ball screen simply requires communication. But, you can't get so lost that Young is taking wide-open threes because he tricked you with a hesitation and shoulder fake.
The Sixers (30-21) will visit the Washington Wizards (9-41) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.