June 04, 2021
UPDATE [Monday, 7:28 p.m.] — If you scroll down to the bottom, you can see a little nugget we included in jest regarding Daryl Morey tweeting about Steph Curry. Well, it turns out the league didn't think it was so funny, as they announced on Monday a $75,000 fine for tampering, and hit the team with the same fine.
The NBA announces it has fined Daryl Morey and the 76ers $75,000 each for a social media post about Stephen Curry last week. pic.twitter.com/8o0Kf3i9Tq— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) June 7, 2021
From Tyrese Maxey's emergence in the first round against the Wizards to the Sixers' outlook against the Hawks without Joel Embiid — and even a little Daryl Morey tampering — here's what they're saying about the squad ahead of the Eastern Conference semifinals...
[NOTE: The Sixers-Hawks schedule came out Friday afternoon, and you can check that out here. We'll also have a full preview from Kyle Neubeck on Saturday, so be sure to check back for that.]
Before turning the page completely on the Wizards series, let's take one last look back at the Sixers' breakout star from the first round: rookie Tyrese Maxey. He was one of the main subjects of our own "what we learned about the Sixers" post, but it's clear based on the amount of ink he's garnered over the past few days that we (and Doc Rivers) are not alone in that assessment.
Here's more from Tom West of Liberty Ballers on the young guard and how he's been able to spark the team...
Maxey’s performance, and the trust the Sixers’ coaching staff had in him to take on a larger role, speaks volumes about his growth over the last couple of months (which I looked at in more detail a few weeks ago here). He’s been outplaying Shake Milton as of late, and has earned opportunities to play more minutes and overtake his older teammate in the rotation (Milton only played 7 minutes in Game 4 and 6:46 in Game 5).
“I think he’s a hell of a player,” Doc Rivers said after Game 5 when talking about Maxey. “I think he has found himself. He’s figured out now how to play, how we need him to play, what makes not only him a good player but making everybody good on the floor when he’s on the floor.”
The rookie has continued to make an impact with the jolt of energy, pace and driving he provides, adding a new dynamic to the Sixers’ bench. And over the last couple of months, Maxey has improved the way he changes pace and catches defenders off guard with shifty stop-and-start drives. In addition to embracing contact more often, he’s used this as a tool to significantly increase his shots at the rim rather than relying too much on his floater, and showed it again in Game 5. This shift in Maxey’s shot profile was key to him taking his true shooting percentage from 50.4 before the All-Star break to 56.3 afterwards. [libertyballers.com]
It would appear the Maxey-over-Milton move isn't going anywhere for Doc Rivers, although it will be interesting to see how the Sixers coach reacts if the rookie has a bad game or two in a row. Will he panic and go back to Shake? Or will he let the Kentucky product find his footing and work it out on the court?
News flash: The Sixers are likely going to be without Joel Embiid for at least part of this series. And while that didn't prove to be an issue in Game 5 against the Wizards, it might make for a tough matchup against Hawks center Clint Capela, a guy who has actually performed fairly well against Embiid defensively in the past.
The Sixers might be forced into more small ball if Dwight Howard gets in foul trouble, and that's a big (no pun intended) ask against a team with more size than the Wizards. Here's more from ESPN's Kevin Pelton...
Atlanta's potent offense figures to test Philadelphia. The Hawks had a better offensive rating than the Sixers over the course of the regular season, an advantage that would be exacerbated if Embiid misses time in the second round. Clint Capela, the NBA's leading offensive rebounder, looks like a particularly tough matchup for the smaller lineup that Rivers started in Game 5 against Washington, with wing Matisse Thybulle in place of Embiid and Simmons as the biggest Philadelphia player.
Rivers has preferred not to start Dwight Howard alongside Simmons, going instead with since-traded Tony Bradley or stretch-4 Mike Scott as centers in Embiid's absence. If Howard is the 76ers' lone healthy traditional center, Rivers might have little choice but to start him against Capela, his former backup with the Houston Rockets. Avoiding foul trouble will also be key for Howard, whose rate of 6.0 fouls per 36 minutes was the highest among qualifying players during the regular season. [espn.com]
But, fear not, because the Sixers should still be able to hold down the fort without their MVP candidate. And if they can do that until he returns, Philly should dispatch of the Hawks.
For Philadelphia, a first-round series win against the Miami Heat in 2018 might be the template for this series. Embiid missed the first two games of that series due to an orbital fracture, but the Sixers still managed to split those games at home and won the next three after Embiid was cleared to play. Game 3 appears a reasonable target for Embiid with Game 1 scheduled for Sunday in Philadelphia, which likely will mean an extended break between Games 2 and 3. [...]
Certainly, Philadelphia will need Embiid back for a possible Eastern Conference finals matchup against the winner of the other semifinal series in the East between the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. Between now and then, the more wins the Sixers can get without Embiid, the better his chances of getting the rest needed to return at something close to full strength. [espn.com]
Over at The Sixer Sense, Matt Cahill wrote about why the Hawks might be a tougher out than many are expecting. After all, they've had one of the best records in all of the NBA (and the best in the East) since bringing in Nate McMillan to be their coach midway through the season.
The national media has proclaimed the East to be a three-horse race all season but a funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs. After starting 14- 20 and struggling all season with both COVID issues and lingering injuries, the Atlanta Hawks made a coaching change to go to Nate McMillan and began a step by step climb up the standings. Suddenly this team that had always been full of potential and untapped talent began playing as well as anyone in the NBA.
From March 1 to the end of the season, the Atlanta Hawks went 27-11, the same record as the Sixers, and the second-best record in basketball behind only Phoenix and Denver (tied at 29- 10) and better than both Brooklyn and Milwaukee. McMillan has always been a great defensive coach but he also improved the offense, adding a series of screens and cuts to go with their snipers on the perimeter.
There are a number of reasons for concern. The Hawks are young, big, talented, deep, well-coached and solid at every position. They have a lot of young talent and most people believed that they could contend in two years, but McMillan has accelerated that process. The injury issues that plagued them all year have pressed so many players into larger roles that they all wound up growing together, and now when they go to the bench there is very little drop off. [thesixersense.com]
One of the big priorities for the Sixers will be shutting down Trae Young — and when it comes specifically to defensive priorities, that has to be at the top of the list. The young guard can absolutely fill it up.
The good news? The Sixers have two of the best defensive players in the NBA (well, three if you count Embiid) in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle. They were able to shut Bradley Beal down in the first round and will now try to do the same in Round 2. Here's more on Young (and how to stop him) from NBC Sports Philadelphia's Noah Levick.
5. Trae Young possesses “logo” range. He made 28 of 77 regular-season shots from 30 feet and out (36.4 percent) and is very comfortable firing from anywhere. The opinion here is that the Sixers shouldn’t be too swayed by a few crowd-pleasing or boo-inducing deep jumpers.
6. In our view, a solid approach against Young would involve high pick-up points, flexibility with switching and some level of aggressiveness in pick-and-roll coverage that doesn’t cross the line into non-stop, kamikaze blitzing. They’ll need to be sharp defending Spain pick-and-rolls, too. Staying attached to the Hawks’ shooters is not as easy as it sounds.
Atlanta Hawks Spain Pick-and-roll -- 3 straight possessions in clutch offense, 3 straight buckets, all assisted by Trae Young— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) May 24, 2021
- Trae lob to Capela
- Trae skip to Bogdanović open corner 3
- Trae behind the back to open De'Andre Hunter pop 3 pic.twitter.com/8zwghvzsUL
Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle are the Sixers’ best options to guard Young, although Danny Green was the main defender on him on April 30. Whether or not Embiid is available, the Sixers have the right personnel to hold Young below his normal output and efficiency for the series. [nbcsports.com]
Despite not having their best player for an undetermined period of time, the overwhelming belief remains that Philly will take care of its business. It might just take a game or two longer than expected.
Here's the prediction from NBA.com's Steve Aschburner...
That No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, up for grabs right into the final couple weeks, looms large now for Philadelphia. No offense to the Hawks, but having to play and win against Brooklyn or Milwaukee while Embiid possibly limps through or sits completely would have been a problem. The Hawks are unburdened at this point by expectations, which might make them more dangerous — or more beatable. Worst-case scenario for the Sixers with their center doesn’t have to be fatal — they had some success in midseason through an extended Embiid absence and, with Simmons manning the middle, eliminated Washington Wednesday night in coach Doc Rivers’ small-ball alignment. Having an extra home game in their back pocket won’t hurt either, though they might not need it. Sixers in 6. [nba.com]
OK, we've looked back on the Wizards series and ahead to the Hawks series, now, let's look beyond that. And beyond the season for that matter.
It appears one of Doc Rivers' assistants, Sam Cassell is being linked to the Celtics as a coach candidate following the stunning retirement of Danny Ainge and promotion of head coach Brad Stevens to president of basketball operations. The Inquirer's Keith Pompey has more...
Sam Cassell is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the Boston Celtics’ head-coach job.
The 76ers assistant coach is familiar with the Celtics organization, playing in Boston during his final NBA season, 2007-08. Boston won the NBA title that season under current Sixers coach Doc Rivers. [...]
According to sources, Celtics assistants Jay Larranaga and Pooh Allen have interviewed for the job. Lloyd Pierce, a former Atlanta Hawks head coach and Sixers assistant, is among the leading candidates for the job.
But Cassell was publicly endorsed by ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, a former Celtics teammate, for the job. [inquirer.com]
And finally, a bit of a funny one as Daryl Morey, who has previously been fined for tampering over his tweets, sent out the following after the Sixers' Game 5 win (and Seth Curry's 30-point performance).
This is not the first time that Morey has raised eyebrows with his tweets. Last year, the NBA fined Morey $50,000 for a tweet congratulating James Harden, his former player, on the anniversary of a scoring milestone after Harden demanded a trade from Houston. He also thrust the NBA into an economic crisis when he advocated for civil rights in China with a retweet.
Whatever Morey meant by his tweet, acquiring Steph Curry doesn’t appear to be realistic. Steph, who still has one more year left on his five-year, $201 million contract, could sign an extension this offseason that would take him through his age 37 season.
Even after the Warriors missed the playoffs, all indications are that Steph isn’t going anywhere. [thereporter.com]
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