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Hawks vs. 76ers predictions, picks, schedule & more to know for 2021 NBA playoff series

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Hawks vs. 76ers predictions, picks, schedule & more to know for 2021 NBA playoff series

What to know about Hawks vs. 76ers

The 76ers were dominant throughout the regular season, finishing with the best overall record in the East (49-23) and third-best record in the league behind only the Jazz (52-20) and Suns (51-21). Philadelphia looked like a much different team with a revamped roster built around All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and coach Doc Rivers seemed to push all of the right buttons in his first year with the Sixers.

The Hawks, on the other hand, struggled to find their footing early in the season. Amid reports of friction between Lloyd Pierce and Hawks players, including Trae Young, Atlanta decided to make a coaching change on March 1 with the team sitting on the outside of not just the playoff picture, but also the play-in tournament. After assistant Nate McMillan took over, the Hawks went 27-11 to secure a postseason berth. (It’s worth noting McMillan’s promotion coincided with the return of Bogdan Bogdanovic. That probably helped.)

Atlanta and Philadelphia handled their first-round series with relative ease, dispatching New York and Washington in five games (also known as the Gentleman’s Sweep). Now comes a true test in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a matchup that could be more competitive than a typical No. 1 vs. No. 5 battle.

The key matchup

Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle vs. Trae Young

Young torched the Knicks in Round 1, averaging 29.2 points and 9.8 assists in his playoff debut. He wasn’t incredibly efficient from the field (44.1 percent) or 3-point territory (34.1 percent), but he did take more than seven free throws per game, hitting on nearly 92 percent of those attempts.

Beyond the numbers, though, Young controlled the flow of the series. He used the threat of his outside shooting and pinpoint passing to keep New York’s defense off balance. Plus, the guy just enjoyed accepting the role of the newest Madison Square Garden villain.

But the Knicks didn’t have a defender like Simmons or Thybulle on their roster.

Simmons could start on Young and give him some problems. At 6-11, the 24-year-old is big enough to bother Young’s jumper, yet quick enough to stay in front of him along the perimeter. That rare combination will make Simmons a Defensive Player of the Year candidate for years to come. As Wizards coach Scott Brooks said, “Not many guys can guard one through five.”

And if Rivers wants to switch things up, he can sub in Thybulle. The former Washington standout is a menace on the defensive end, as he is never truly out of a play, even if he gets screened or beat off the dribble. Thybulle totaled four steals and five blocks in Philadelphia’s Game 2 win over Washington, becoming the first guard in NBA playoff history to hit those thresholds. Oh, and he played less than 20 minutes,

Put Simmons and Thybulle on the floor together, and the results are terrifying. No wonder the Sixers had the second-best defensive rating in the league during the regular season.

Whether Young can break free from the Simmons and Thybulle shackles could go a long way in determining which team emerges victorious.

The X-factor

How much will Joel Embiid play?

So yeah, this is a big one. The 76ers announced Wednesday that Embiid had suffered a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee and is considered day-to-day. It appears surgery is not on the table at the moment, but it’s unclear exactly when Embiid could return.

Obvious statement alert: Philadelphia was significantly better when Embiid was available during the regular season. The 76ers went 39-12 when he played, the best record for any player that logged at least 1,000 minutes, per ESPN Stats and Info.

76ers Record Offensive rating Defensive rating Net rating
With Embiid 39-12 117.8 105.8 12.0
Without Embiid 10-11 106.6 106.5 0.1

“We know we’ve got enough without Joel out there to win a few games,” Sixers guard Seth Curry said. “We don’t have a choice — we’ve got to have that confidence and believe. We’ve got a lot of confident guys. Joel has been huge for us all year. It’s only right for us to give him as much time as he needs to get back and help us win it all.”

But how much time does Embiid need? And how many games can Philly survive without him?

The big number

102.1

While the 76ers are more well-known for their defensive prowess than the Hawks, let’s give Atlanta some credit. McMillan’s squad held the Knicks to a 102.1 offensive rating in the first round, more than eight points lower than New York’s regular season mark (110.2).

Everyone knows the Hawks possess offensive firepower at multiple positions, but their commitment to defense will be key if they want to pull off the upset and reach the Eastern Conference finals.

Hawks vs. 76ers schedule

(All times Eastern)

Date Game Time  National TV
TBD Game 1 TBD TBD
TBD Game 2 TBD TBD
TBD Game 3 TBD TBD
TBD Game 4 TBD TBD
TBD Game 5* TBD TBD
TBD Game 6* TBD TBD
TBD Game 7* TBD TBD

* If necessary

Hawks vs. 76ers prediction

76ers in six

The Embiid question looms large in this series and makes it a tough one to predict. Philadelphia was able to put away Washington without Embiid, but Atlanta is an entirely different challenge. The Hawks certainly do not lack confidence.

With such limited information regarding Embiid’s status, the guess here is that the Sixers can contain Young and keep the ship afloat until he rejoins the starting lineup.

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton's game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

Deandre Ayton was the hero for the Suns in their Game 2 win over the Clippers.

With less than a second left on the clock, the Suns were down one point and had just 0.9 seconds to get a shot off. Jae Crowder inbounded the ball on the baseline under the Suns’ basket and found Ayton cutting to the hoop.

Ayton threw it down. The play took just 0.2 seconds off the clock and sealed the 104-103 win for the Suns.

Here’s a look at the amazing finish.

Ayton and Crowder deserve a bulk of the credit, but Devin Booker had an impact on the finish as well. His physical screen on Ivica Zubac — who is seven inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than Booker — gave Ayton just enough space to get open off the cut and throw down the dunk.

And Booker put his body on the line despite playing with a bloodied nose that required stitches after an inadvertent hit from Patrick Beverley earlier in the game.

The Suns’ finish thrilled Phoenix fans as well as the team’s star point guard Chris Paul, who missed his second straight game in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He took time to celebrate the victory on Twitter and praised coach Monty Williams for his “big-time play call.”

Indeed, it was a nice play call, and Williams made sure Ayton was prepared to dunk immediately after catching the ball.

“DA — if he throws it, you gotta try to dunk it,” Williams said. “Okay?”

Ayton was ready and obliged. As a result of his make, NBA Twitter erupted and celebrated the exciting end to yet another tightly-contested playoff battle. 

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn’t apply on Deandre Ayton’s dunk

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn't apply on Deandre Ayton's dunk

Back in December 2017, the Suns and Grizzlies found themselves in a down-to-the-wire contest. Phoenix had the ball with just 0.6 seconds on the clock and the game tied at 97.

So what did then-Suns coach Jay Triano do? He unveiled a play that he had kept in his back pocket for years.

MORE: Chris Paul reacts to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk

While standing on the sideline near the Grizzlies’ bench, Dragan Bender threw a pass toward Tyson Chandler that floated directly above the rim, giving Chandler the opportunity to slam it through the bottom of the net. Wait, you can do that?

“You cannot goaltend a ball that isn’t going to count,” Triano told reporters after the game.

More than three years later, Triano’s words were once again ringing throughout Phoenix Suns Arena. Coach Monty Williams drew up a similar play on Tuesday night, and his players executed it perfectly to give the Suns a stunning 104-103 win over the Clippers and a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.

Look at this beauty:

OK, let’s break down what NBA TV’s Matt Winer called “The Valley Oop.” (Great work, Matt).

First, notice the positioning of DeMarcus Cousins. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue made a smart move by putting Cousins on Jae Crowder in order to make an inbound pass more difficult, but Cousins is squared up to Crowder, opening up the passing lane Crowder needs.

As for the action in the paint, Devin Booker sets a terrific screen on Ivica Zubac, allowing Deandre Ayton to break free. Could Nicolas Batum have bumped Ayton and recovered? Possibly, but he is understandably concerned with leaving Booker.

(NBA)

Once Ayton gets a step on Zubac running toward the basket, it’s on Crowder to put the ball in a spot in which Ayton can score. As you can see from the angle below, Crowder just narrowly avoids the backboard. The placement here is simply incredible.

“That’s definitely Jae’s game-winner,” Ayton said after the game.

deandre ayton suns play
(NBA)

Now, you may still be asking, “But why isn’t that a goaltending violation?”

As the NBA explained in its Last Two Minute Report from that December 2017 game, “Goaltending rules do not apply because (Chandler) makes contact with the ball off of a throw-in and not a live ball that has already legally been touched on the playing court.” Scott Foster, who served as the crew chief on Tuesday, offered the same explanation when asked about Ayton’s dunk.

Sometimes less than a second can be all the time in the world. Just ask any Suns fan.

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Clippers’ Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

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Clippers' Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

The box score from Tuesday’s Suns-Clippers game — a pivotal Game 2 win for Phoenix in the Western Conference finals — will show Paul George had a decent game.

Twenty-six points, on 10-of-23 shooting; six assists; six rebounds; and 5-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. He also scored his team’s last six points, all within the last minute, to help the Clippers to a 103-102 lead with just 8.2 seconds remaining.

The only stats that ultimately mattered in the Clippers’ 104-103 loss, however, were the final two free throws George — a career 84.7-percent free throw shooter — missed. They ultimately allowed Phoenix a chance at an unbelievable comeback victory, which may prove costly even as the series heads back to LA.

NBA MOCK DRAFT 2021: Who will Pistons, Rockets take with top picks?

Had George sunk both of those shots, the Suns would have needed a 3-pointer just to send the game to overtime. Had he sunk even one shot, they would have needed a 2-pointer. But he missed both, allowing the Suns to win on an inbound dunk with less than a second remaining:

Credit to Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and the Suns. That play will go down as one of the top plays in NBA playoffs history. But every heartbreaking loss needs a goat, and no one fits the bill better than “Playoff P,” who could have secured a win for his team with the simplest of basketball scoring plays.

Here’s the bright side for the Clippers, if there is one: They have already overcome 2-0 deficits in each of their first two series against the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively. That’s likely a cold comfort as George and Co. head back to LA, however. The scathing Twitter comments aimed at George likely won’t do anything to help, either:

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