The Sixers (7-3) visited the Hawks (4-5) on Monday night for their second game since COVID struck the team. After playing just seven players on Saturday, Doc Rivers was able to activate Joel Embiid and Mike Scott (active Saturday, but not able to play, per Rivers). So, the Sixers suited nine against the Hawks. The Hawks, with five players unavailable, were also short-handed in this affair. The Sixers struggled to manufacture any sort of consistent offense away from Embiid in this game, and the Hawks bludgeoned them, 112-94.

Before we break down the action, some notes.

Contextual Notes

Since it’s much easier to say who was available than who was not and why they weren’t, we’ll go that route for this game. The Sixers had Embiid, Danny Green, Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe, Dakota Mathias, Paul Reed, Mike Scott, Dwight Howard, and Tony Bradley available to play. Rivers started Maxey, Mathias, Green, Scott, and Embiid.

The Hawks had Trae Young, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, John Collins, Clint Capela, Bruno Fernando, Kevin Huerter, Solomon Hill, Skylar Mays, Nathaniel Knight, and Brandon Goodwin available to play. Lloyd Pierce started Young, Reddish, Hunter, Collins, and Capela.

First Half

Joel Embiid was just about as dominant as one could ask for in the first frame of play. He posted 16 points and 6 rebounds in his first 8:54 of play. He also got to the line six times in his first stint of play. The best way to maximize him is always going to be to get him in post-up situations. He’s so strong and skilled that there’s a reasonably favorable chance he’s either going to score or get to the line more often than not. In this game, he had the ball in his hands virtually every possession he was on the floor, and he worked that game plan nearly to a tee. That inevitably will not be feasible every night, especially when Simmons, Harris, and Curry return. But, in this situation, that needs to be the itinerary every time down the court.

Fighting Over Screens

Tyrese Maxey did not look the slightest bit intimidated by the matchup with Trae Young. There were a handful of plays in which Young was left unattended on the perimeter. But, some of those looks came in transition when the defensive assignment is more about the closest man than it is your ideal matchup. There was one play in which Maxey went under a ball screen and Young made him pay. But, the rookie guard compiled a pair of blocks against the third-year guard and did not look even the slightest bit intimidated.

After the loss, Maxey said, “That’s the job, Clint Capela, John Collins. They set a wonderful screen and I fought over most of them for the most part, but it is relentless. Gotta be relentless with them. He’s [Trae Young] good at drawing fouls and good at what he does and he makes it hard.” Maxey later added, “The other day, Coach Doc and Coach Dan told me they feel like I’m gonna be able to pick up a lot closer to half court, not closer to the three-point line, because of how active I can be. I think, today, that was a large step and I tried to do that for the most part.”

While the scoring numbers for Maxey were naturally down with Embiid back, he still showed determination in getting to the rim. It becomes clearer by each passing game that Maxey is one of the team’s two best ball-handlers and certainly one of its best shot-creators.

The Double Came, But The Shots Didn’t Fall

Even with Embiid posting 24 points and 10 boards in the first half, the Sixers found themselves trailing by 15 at intermission. That deficit ultimately came down to the Sixers being completely unable to capitalize on open looks from the perimeter. The Hawks, feeling the bumps and bruises of Embiid’s post-ups, started sending hard double-teams from across the court. Embiid was identifying those doubles without much of an issue, as he was hitting his open teammates to stimulate reversals on the perimeter. However, the Sixers connected on just four of their eighteen three-point attempts in the first half. The Hawks, on the other hand, were crushing size mismatches in the half-court and making out like bandits in transition.

Second Half

Dakota Mathias and Dwight Howard have demonstrated a really fluid chemistry in their limited action together. They’re consistently on the same page in the pick-and-roll and the Sixers are actually squeezing out some offensive production in the absences of three of the team’s four best players. Now, it took half the roster being unable to play for him to get his opportunities, so I wouldn’t expect to see many Mathias minutes when things return to normal. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see some natural offensive instincts blossoming in Mathias’ limited minutes.

Isaiah Joe has found his stroke after struggling to find his range in limited minutes during the first two weeks. Joe is a bit of a jack from deep, but he also demonstrates a strong shooter’s conscience. He’s not afraid of misses, and he doesn’t let misses haunt his shot selection on the next possession.

“I didn’t think there was much of a chance of winning that game and so my assessment was, ‘get everybody out as soon as I could and start thinking about the next day.'” 

Once this game was out of reach, Rivers unloaded his bench, as coaches usually do. However, I found it interesting that Tyrese Maxey was not featured in the closing group. Usually, those minutes tell you who coaches feel like they need to see more out of. That Maxey wasn’t out there is a promising sign for the rookie, as it could mean that Rivers feels as though he’s proven a lot of what he’s needed to prove to his head coach up to this point and that Rivers trusts him. While you shouldn’t expect to see much of some of these guys going forward, Maxey sure feels like a lock to play a crucial role in this rotation as the season goes on.

After the game, Doc Rivers explained: “This is honestly more of a game about getting our guys some run. At the end of the day, we stood out the game hoping we could steal one. But, once you saw that wasn’t going to happen, it was more about me getting guys a couple of reps up and down the floor.”

Rivers added, “You never know in a given night, you give yourself a shot. And then as a coach you got to assess like early on, even at halftime. For me, I saw what the score was. I didn’t think there was much of a chance of winning that game and so my assessment was, ‘get everybody out as soon as I could and start thinking about the next day.'”

Exploiting Advantages

Ultimately, this game was about the Hawks recognizing a short-handed Sixers team and using pace and size to their advantage to get them down early. After the game, Rivers said, “I thought they really tried to play fast. And they also knew they had an amazing size advantage.” 

The Sixers (7-4) find themselves on a three-game losing streak after a 7-1 start (can’t ignore context, of course). They will host the short-handed Miami Heat (4-4) on Tuesday night. It will be the first of a two-game home series against the Heat. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM.