The Sixers enter Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals tied two a piece with the Atlanta Hawks. They had an opportunity to essentially win the series with a win in Game 4, but with Embiid’s struggles coupled with the overall lack of urgency, the Sixers find themselves in a series that can sway either way in a pivotal Game 5 at the Wells Fargo Center.
There are obvious keys to closing out this series, like limiting Trae Young and continuing to play fast paced offensive basketball, but there are more specifics details that need to be ironed out on the Sixers’ end to ensure they advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Here are three keys to closing out the Hawks and getting one step closer to a Finals appearance.
Limit offensive rebounds
The Hawks have dominated the offensive glass in this series and it’s played a large role in the series being tied. Atlanta has outpaced Philly in offensive rebounds by a margin of 38 to 32 and have outrebounded the Sixers on the offensive glass in every game except for one thus far. That may not seem like a huge difference, but six extra possessions over the Sixers, all of which are avoidable, is a difference maker in a close series.
Take Game 4 for example. The Hawks had 12 offensive rebounds to the Sixers 8, and they got up 101 total shots, 26 more than the Sixers did. Regardless of the fact that they only shot 36.6 percent from the field, that’s an absurd amount of shots for any team to get in a playoff game. The Sixers had a field goal percentage of 43.5 percent, which on most night should be good enough to win. But not when you allow the opposing team to get up 26 more shots than you.
Limiting the offensive rebounds isn’t the only factor that allowed Atlanta to have so many scoring opportunities (stay tuned for the other reason), but it certainly is the most bothersome and avoidable.
With Joel Embiid — and even Dwight Howard when he’s on the floor — there’s no reason Atlanta should be able to snag this many offensive boards. They were one of the best teams in the NBA this season in getting offensive rebounds (10.6 per game, tied for third-most in the league), which is why it’s even more concerning that the Sixers haven’t already keyed in on this.
It cannot be overstated how important it is for the Sixers to limit the extra possessions for Atlanta moving forward.
Win the turnover differential
In any sport, if you want to know which team won any given game, the turnover margin is usually a clear indicator. And that’s reigned true in this series between the Sixers and Hawks. In the four games played, the team with the less turnovers came out victorious.
The Sixers have been one of the best teams in basketball at causing turnovers throughout the season, posting an opponent turnover percentage of 13.8, tied for second-best in the league. Atlanta, on the other hand, has been one of the worst teams at creating turnovers, posting a 11.1 opponent turnover percentage, second-worst in the league.
Atlanta has been pretty modest in the turning the ball over throughout the year, averaging 11.9 turnovers per 100 possessions, but there’s no reason the Sixers can’t force them into more mistakes. And there’s no excuse for only causing four turnovers in Game 4 while committing 12 themselves, another factor that led to Atlanta having so many scoring opportunities.
The Sixers are at the top of the league in nearly every defensive category. They should be able to smother this Atlanta offense on a nightly basis, but in games one and four, they just seemed to get lazy.
Philly is built on their defense and that’s what ultimately is going to win them this series.
Don’t allow Trae Young to get into the paint
It’s no secret that Trae Young has a lethal floater and makes lob passes look easy when he gets into the lane. In Game 4, Young facilitated everything the Hawks did offensively and he did it with ease in the second half. 25 points to go along with 18 assists just can’t happen if the Sixers want to close this series in six games.
Throughout the four games these two teams have played, the Sixers have typically gone over screens set for Young, chasing him to his spot. It works at times, but they’ve failed to consistently slow him down when he gets going down hill. Young’s shooting percentage inside the three point line this series is at 48 percent, whereas his three point percentage sits at 31.4 percent.
Perhaps Doc Rivers should instruct his defense to go under the screens for Young instead of chasing him around them. Forcing him to make the long shot could prove to be more effective in slowing down the Hawks attack. Not to mention, it’ll limit his assist numbers as well, with most of those coming on lobs when Young goes towards the hoop.
Whenever you’re dealing with a top-tier offensive threat, you have to pick your poison defensively. Young has proved to be an elite scorer when he gets to the basket and an elite facilitator — he hasn’t proven to be a prolific three point shooter, contrary to popular belief.
The downside to this strategy of course is Young getting hot from long range, which can certainly happen on any given night. But it’s obvious that Young wants to get to the basket nearly every time he touches the ball; it helps him get into his offensive rhythm.
The Sixers best bet to slow down the Hawks offense is to force Young into doing things he doesn’t want to do, and that means forcing him to take more threes.