Defense, Free Throws Haunt Sixers In Another Loss to the Hawks

As the NBA playoffs inch closer, the Sixers continue to underwhelm. Coming off of a 20-point loss on Monday in Dallas, they put together a poor defensive performance en route to their fourth loss in the last six games. 

The Sixers have always had issues with the Hawks and that was no different in this one, falling by a score of 130-122 Philadelphia finishes the season series against Atlanta 1-3. Not ideal.

Playoff Picture

Philadelphia holds onto the third seed with four games to play, 2.5 games up on Boston and Indiana, who hold fourth and fifth place. The Celtics and Pacers play each other on Friday, which should help.

It seems likely the Sixers hold onto the three spot unless they lose out, but JJ Redick knows that it isn’t guaranteed at this point. 

“First of all, we don’t have the third seed locked up,” JJ Redick said after the game. “I think our magic number is still two after tonight. You want to be playing good basketball going into playoffs. The alternative to that…it doesn’t look as good, it doesn’t feel as good.”

The Game

Atlanta scored at will in the first (well both teams did really), shooting nearly 70 percent from the floor. The Sixers shot over 62 percent, but found themselves trailing 42-38.

In the second quarter, the Sixers looked to be getting some separation from the Hawks. They put together an 11-0 run to take a seven-point lead with just over three minutes to play in the half. Atlanta ramped things up, though, responding with a 14-3 run to end the quarter. Heading into the half, the Hawks carried a 72-68 lead.

The glaring halftime weakness for the Sixers was defense yet again. Oh, and turnovers, too. Atlanta led the way in fastbreak points, 19-2, and scored 13 points off seven Sixer miscues. 

In the third, the Sixers and Hawks went back-and-forth for the majority. Atlanta got out to an eight-point lead with 2:41 to play in the quarter, but the Sixers fought back to trail by just four, 98-94, heading into the final 12 minutes.

Atlanta pulled away early in the fourth as the Sixers defense continued to allow easy looks. The Hawks’ pick-and-roll game stumped Philadelphia all night. The Sixers clawed to within five in the final moments, but missed free throws and empty possessions proved to be the difference. 

Redick Overtakes Korver for Single-Season Record

JJ Redick had himself a record-breaking night. In the first half, the sharp-shooting veteran hit his 227th three-point shot of the season.

Redick’s three broke the single-season record of 226 triples held by Kyle Korver, dating back to the 2004-05 season. JJ was told a couple of weeks ago that he was inching closer to the record and knew that if he had multiple games with multiple three’s, he’d pass Korver. 

“I got a few text messages and a few of the guys that are on the team that are on ‘the gram’ told me congrats,” Redick said of breaking the franchise mark. “I knew I was getting close. I don’t know which [three] it was, but I figured by the end of the third, I probably got it.”

No one has really come too close to Redick or Korver for the Sixers recently. Robert Covington is closest, hitting 203 triples in 2017-18. The next closest after RoCo? Well you have to go all the way back to the 1994-95 season, when Dana Barros converted on 197 three’s. 

“He’s more like a brother to me,” said TJ McConnell. “Just the list of things he’s accomplished in his career is incredible, so I’m really happy for him and he’s been great for our team, in the locker room and for the organization.”

Redick finished the game with a team-high 30 points on 10-for-22 shooting.

“He’s a leader, he’s incredible offensively, and off the court he’s just a great guy…a good role model,” Ben Simmons said post-game.

Sixers Defense Non-Existent Again

Most Sixers fans/viewers would probably agree that since the team’s big win against Boston, they look to be coasting. Although the Sixers still have a hold on the three seed, their defensive inefficiencies aren’t something to just let go. With the way they have been playing defensively, it’s difficult to think that a switch will turn and they will be a different team.

“I don’t know. If I had the answer, I’d figure out a way to solve it,” JJ Redick said post-game about the team’s defensive issues. “We’ll hopefully get this squared away over the next week and have some confidence on that end of the floor going into the playoffs.”

Yes, Joel Embiid has been out, but the perimeter and transition defense from the other starters has been lackluster at best. Tonight, the Hawks outscored the Sixers 24-7 in the fast break points category, indicating some of the effort, or lack there of, from the Sixers defense in these games towards the end of the season.

“Our concepts weren’t great, we just didn’t communicate,” Simmons said after the game. “There’s been a lot of switching, a lot of treys and everybody’s trying to get on the same page.”

Free Throw Woes

Drawing contact and getting to the line is one way to stop another team’s momentum. The Sixers got to the line, but were unable to convert there. They made just 22 of their 38 free throws. Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler each missed five.

You’d have to go back to March 23 (five games ago) to find the last time the Sixers shot over 80 percent from the line as a team.

Young Hawks Finishing Season Strong

Atlanta has won five of their last seven games, with two wins coming against the Sixers and the other three against the Bucks, Pelicans and Jazz. That’s impressive. They almost beat the Spurs on Tuesday night before defeating Philadelphia at home on Wednesday.

“Only a couple games left in the season and we want to finish strong and finish on the right note,” said Hawks guard Trae Young. “Beating a team that is firmly in the playoffs is very good for us.”

Trae Young continued his tremendous rookie season against the Sixers on Wednesday, scoring 33 points on 12-for-18 shooting. John Collins contributed with 25 points on 10-for-18 shooting. The Hawks shot over 52 percent in this one. 

“Pretty good effort by our guys on our back-to-back,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce. “I thought our guys came out and had a great spirit and energy all game. Just kind of had our way tonight.”

The Road Ahead

No rest for the Sixers as the Eastern Conference leading Bucks come to Philadelphia on Thursday for the second part of a back-to-back. Hopefully Joel Embiid returns and things turn around for the team. 

After the Bucks game, hit the road to Chicago and Miami before concluding the regular season at home against the Bulls on April 10.