The Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers were on a mission, and if you did not notice it during their first-round matchups, you certainly will for their next one.
After quickly dispatching the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the 76ers will do battle against the feisty and, somewhat, chirpy Hawks in what should be a contest between size and raw shooting.
With that said, you know the drill at this point. Who holds the edge in terms of offense, defense and depth off the pine? Well, let’s try to figure that out. Here is my second-round preview between the two squads.
The Wizards were not well-renowned for their defensive prowess during the regular season, and this certainly did not change during their brief postseason stint as the 76ers throttled them to an average of 124 points per game during the five-match campaign.
While Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons certainly provided value even if by name, it was Tobias Harris and Seth Curry who arguably stole the show as the pair was top-three on the team in average minutes per game (33.2 and 28.4, respectively) and points per game (25.0 and 15.8, respectively).
For the Hawks, it was just as straightforward as Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter, among others, helped overtake the usually stingy New York Knicks in five games.
On paper, Philadelphia has the size, while Atlanta has the mobility, especially on the perimeter. However, the 76ers might be going through a lineup flux as Embiid remains uncertain for the start of the series due to a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee suffered during Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss to Washington.
Should Embiid miss significant time, more lanes will open for Atlanta’s quick-paced offense, and even if Embiid does return, how will his mobility affect his production? This might be all it takes to give Atlanta the edge. They are simply more three-dimensional.
Although the Knicks were not an offensive juggernaut, Atlanta was able to inhibit New York just enough to sway the series in their favor. During the five-game set, the Knicks averaged a minuscule 97 points. Philadelphia, meanwhile, attempted to hold the triple-double machine known as Russell Westbrook to mortal totals, and while they were able to hold off the 32-year-old guard, they still allowed 110 points per game on average to the opposing Wizards.
For the Hawks, it will be about finding a lane through the inside part of the paint, which might prove difficult against a team with a much more posing presence when compared to the Knicks. The Embiid injury might loom large as the series progresses, but until then, this will end as a draw. Anti-climactic, I know.
What the Hawks possess in terms of firepower from the bench can be summed up very simply: top-heavy. When solely looking at the postseason numbers, only two players (Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter) averaged nine points or more. Philadelphia, on the other hand, only had one such player (Tyrese Maxey). In terms of overall balance when looking at minute totals, rebounding and everything else in-between, Philadelphia holds an edge, and they must, as with such a physically-imposing team, fouls are bound to happen. This will only hold true even more should this series become a snot-nosed fouling contest. Atlanta has the pieces on the bench, and while they might not have used them as much, they still might not be enough even if they are utilized more heavily.
Defense wins championships. At least, that is how the saying goes. When looking at this from an NBA perspective, however, it is star power that wins championships. Most notably, star power that is healthy.
Philadelphia possesses many a star, but their biggest one in Embiid is a question mark. Sure, he very well might play a part in this series, but will it be impactful, or will it be rushed and all for naught similarly to what happened with Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers?
This series should go deep, but in terms of youth, speed, health and scoring, Atlanta maintains an advantage, even if by default. It all comes down to how Embiid performs, and if he does not, who steps up in his continued absence.
Whatever the weather, Atlanta will be there.
Prediction: Hawks in Six