Many Hawks fans were surprised with the news that De’Andre Hunter was a late-game scratch and Joel Embiid would be playing in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals; in fact, I was a bit concerned, but even with Embiid, the 76ers couldn’t come back from a 26-point deficit and lost 128-124 on Sunday.
Philly’s big man played for the first time in six days since going down after a slight meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 4 of the Sixers’ first-round series with the Wizards. Even if he played, I certainly thought Embiid would be a shell of himself, similar to Anthony Davis after tweaking his groin. Boy was I wrong; Embiid led all scorers with 39 points on 12-for-21 shooting, adding nine rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
But even with Embiid’s monster game, the Hawks were firing on all cylinders. Doc Rivers chose to start the game with Danny Green on Trae Young, which proved disastrous as Young put up a cool 25 points and seven assists in the first half. He was able to beat Green off the dribble with ease, knocking down his shots or finding open Hawks when the defense brought help. Yes, Young put his teammates in a position to succeed, but they were up for the challenge, too, shooting 20-of-47 from deep. Atlanta dropped 42 points in the first quarter and held a 15-point lead, which quickly grew to over 20 once Rivers went to the bench.
It all starts with Trae Young. He stretched Philly past 30 feet with his shooting and ran a pick-and-roll offensive clinic as he lobbed floaters and alley-oops while also finding shooters for wide-open three-pointers after the defense collapsed. But it is the secondary playmakers that truly make this a frightening offense.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is a perfect fit with Young in the backcourt. He’s equally as threatening as a sharpshooter as he is a primary ball-handler. Bogi can play off Young when he’s on the court and generate offense — scoring and passing — with Young off the court. Kevin Huerter has also experienced massive growth in his third year and shows much of the same value that Bogi has with his defense, shooting, and play-making.
That’s not even mentioning the ultra-efficient John Collins, who is shooting 58% from the field and 46% from three in the playoffs. De’Andre Hunter, Atlanta’s rising star, didn’t even play but is always good for a few mid-range jumpers, three-pointers, and solid defense. The list continues with Lou Williams, who is a three-time Sixth Man of the Year recipient and can get you 15 on any given night.
This team is deep… The fact is Joel Embiid played, played great even, and the Hawks’ offense still proved to be too much. It is incredibly encouraging to see such a young team play with such confidence, and if Atlanta’s offense continues to shoot lights out… the rest of the league could be in trouble.
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