The No.1 seed Philadelphia 76ers have defeated the Washington Wizards in five games, advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
Awaiting them is the No.5 seed Atlanta Hawks, who took care of the New York Knicks in five games, giving us a matchup between one of the best offences in the league and the best defences.
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- Game 1 - Sunday, June 6, 1:00 p.m. ET
- Game 2 - Tuesday, June 8, 7:30 p.m. ET
- Game 3 - Friday, June 11, 7:30 p.m. ET
- Game 4 - Monday, June 14, TBD
- Game 5 (if necessary) - Wednesday, June 16, TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - Friday, June 14, TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - Monday, June 14, TBD
Result: 76ers won 2-1
Best game: May 1, 2021 - 76ers 126, Hawks 104
Best performance: Trae Young (April 30, 2021) - 32 points (10-of-19 FG, 2-of-6 3PT, 10-of-10 FT), four assists
The 76ers won the last two meetings of the season by a combined 66 points, both coming at home at Wells Fargo Center, which they've turned into a fortress in recent seasons.
Their lone loss to the Hawks came in January, (112-94), however, they were missing eight players due to health and safety protocols, including Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle, while Ben Simmons was sidelined with a knee injury.
Injuries haven't allowed us to see these teams go at it at full strength this season, so it's hard to get an accurate read on how they will matchup in the post-season.
Their most recent meeting, a 126-104 win for the 76ers was as close to full health as we've seen both these teams and the 76ers cruised to a comfortable win behind Ben Simmons (18 points, six rebounds and five assists), Joel Embiid (18 points and six rebounds) and a huge performance off the bench from Dwight Howard (19 points and 11 rebounds), while Young had 32 points in a losing effort.
Key Storyline: Joel Embiid's health
The 76ers enter the second round with an injury cloud hanging over Joel Embiid, who missed their Game 5 win over the Wizards with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.
The MVP finalist is considered day-to-day, but as the best player in the series, he is the key to the 76ers success.
While most teams would have their hands full guarding Embiid, the Hawks are well-equipped with Clint Capela, who has anchored their defence all season and has the size and length to make life tough for Embiid. In eight games against Capela in his career, Embiid has averaged 20.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
If Embiid does miss time, expect the 76ers to ramp up the pace behind Simmons, Harris, and their 3-point shooters as we saw in Game 5 against the Wizards, where Simmons started at center, dropping a 19-point, 11-assist, 10 rebound triple-double.
🇦🇺 @BenSimmons25 poured in a Game 5 triple-double as the @sixers advance to the second round! #NBAPlayoffs- NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) June 3, 2021
📊 19 PTS | 11 AST | 10 REB | 2 BLK pic.twitter.com/i9G4kcXuwt
With a smaller, quicker lineup, the 76ers can bring Capela out to the perimeter and exploit mismatches, but will that be enough across a seven-game series?
Embiid's health for this series will completely change the complexion of this matchup.
Three Players to Watch
Seth Curry, Philadelphia 76ers
With the Hawks possessing an array of 3-point shooters, Seth Curry looms as an X-factor for the 76ers in this series.
In two games against the Hawks this season, Curry averaged 13.5 points on 45.5 percent from the 3-point line and enters the second round off the back of a scorching Game 5 win over the Washington Wizards, dropping 30 points on 10-of-17 from the field.
When the 76ers are knocking down threes, they're a tough team to cover, especially with Embiid's improved passing out of double teams and the non-stop playmaking of Ben Simmons.
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
All eyes will be on Trae Young for the Hawks, who has been crushing opponents in the pick-and-roll, with his combination of playmaking and shooting. The 76ers already have the best defender of point guards in Ben Simmons, but Thybulle gives them another lethal defensive weapon to shadow Young.
Against the Wizards, Thybulle played just 16.7 minutes per game, but he was monstrous on the defensive end, averaging 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, including a huge Game 2 performance where he recorded four steals and five blocks in under 20 minutes. Given the Hawks' potency on the perimeter, he will likely have a big role in this series.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Young has emerged as one of the breakout stars of the post-season, unbothered by the bright lights of playoff basketball as he taunted the Knicks through five games.
"The higher the level is, the more I get ready for it," Young said after his playoff debut. "This is just it. It's the stage. It's the best basketball in the world. You're in the playoffs in the NBA, and it's my first time and I'm realizing it. I'm just trying to have fun and embrace the moment.
Embrace it, he has, averaging 29.2 points and 9.8 assists in the first round. The Hawks will ultimately go as far as Young takes them, but as the underdog No.5 seed, there's nothing more dangerous than a player with nothing to lose.
Picks and Predictions
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Hawks in six
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): 76ers in six
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): 76ers in six
Stats to know
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