NBA

NBA Big Game Focus: Ailing Embiid gives 76ers cause for concern after Hawks draw level

By Sports Desk June 15, 2021

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks are locked together at 2-2 in the NBA playoffs as their battle to reach the Eastern Conference Finals continues on Wednesday.

After losing the opener at home, the 76ers appeared to assume control by taking the next two games to forge ahead.

However, with Joel Embiid enduring a second half to forget, the Hawks hit back on Monday, a 103-100 triumph leaving the situation delicately poised as the series switches back to Philadelphia for Game 5.

For a franchise linked with the catchphrase "trust the process", the key for the 76ers – who are the top seeds in the East – is believing in each other, according to head coach Doc Rivers.

Asked for the reason behind his team's loss in Atlanta, he said: "We stopped passing. I thought we started the game that way, then got back into ball movement, then went to hero basketball.

"Basically, everybody wanted to be the hero, rather than trusting the team and trusting each other.

"If you do that, you usually lose, especially when the other team outworks you the whole game, and that's what they did."

Embiid – a player who arrived via the draft amid a patient rebuild that prioritised long-term planning over immediate results – endured a difficult outing in Atalanta, going 4-for-20 as he missed all 12 of his shots in the second half. That run included an unsuccessful lay-up in the closing seconds that would have put his team ahead.

Bothered by a knee injury suffered in the opening round against the Washington Wizards, Embiid saw his offensive production drop dramatically.

A temporary blip or a greater cause for concern? Only time will tell, but the 76ers will not want to fall behind knowing they have to travel to Atlanta for Game 6.


PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Tobias Harris – Philadelphia 76ers

Harris is averaging 23.2 points per game in the playoffs, easily a career high. He is shooting at 40 per cent from deep too, becoming a consistent contributor for his team on offense. However, with Embiid not at full power, the 28-year-old may have to ease the strain on his ailing team-mate by taking on an even greater workload.

Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

Young created NBA history in Game 4, becoming the youngest player to have 18 or more assists in a postseason game. He also scored 25 points, with his fifth double-double of the playoffs demonstrating his importance to this Hawks outfit. No individual had managed both 25 points and 18 assists in a playoff outing since Tim Hardaway back in May 1991.

KEY BATTLE – Embiid against his ailing knee

"I'm just trying to do the best I can," Embiid said when talking to the media after Game 4. The center – runner-up to fellow big Nikola Jokic in the MVP race – is having to deal with a partially torn meniscus at just the wrong time in the season.

He sat out Game 5 against the Wizards as the 76ers sealed a semi-final spot, but with this series so delicately balanced there is little time to take a break.

The Hawks, who have won only three of 24 best-of-seven series in which they found themselves 2-1 down – will sense the chance to strike on the road as they aim to reach the Conference Finals for the first time since 2015.

HEAD TO HEAD

This is the third playoff series between the teams, with the 76ers progressing in both 1980 and 1982. They also won two of the three meeting in the regular season, though the Hawks have already prevailed once in this series in Philadelphia.

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    PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

    Golden State Warriors - Draymond Green

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    Phoenix Suns - Chris Paul

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    KEY BATTLE - Can Warriors beat Ayton on the boards?

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    The Suns center is averaging 11.4 boards per game, the sixth-most in the NBA.

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    HEAD-TO-HEAD

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