It’s all tied up as the series between the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers and their opponents, the Atlanta Hawks, heads to Atlanta for games three (7:30pm ET Friday; TV: Live on ESPN) and four of this Eastern Conference semifinal.
With the other semifinal between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets seemingly headed toward a sweep, all eyes will be on Hawks/Sixers in what profiles to be an evenly matched series all the way to the end. Below, USA Betting previews the game three match-up and gives our predictions and betting picks as both teams look to take a 2-1 series lead.
Game One Recap – Trae Young Silences the Wells Fargo Center
Statement made, statement delivered. Coming off a 4-1 series victory over the Washington Wizards and finding out the news that their MVP-caliber All-Star would be back on the court, it may be safe to say the Sixers overlooked Trae Young and the Hawks in game one. Atlanta took every advantage of it.
The Hawks got off to a stunning lead and never looked back, dominating the first half on both the offensive and defensive ends of the ball thanks to Trae Young, who finished with a team-high 35 points. The Sixers didn’t at all look like the team that ranked sixth during the regular season in allowing opponents just 108.1 points per game. In fact, Philadelphia allowed nearly that in just the first half alone, giving up 74 points to the Hawks and scoring just 54 themselves.
The Sixers chipped away at that deficit in the third, but they still entered the deciding fourth quarter down 16. While Philadelphia made one of the most furious comebacks in playoff basketball history, they couldn’t quite complete it. The deficit was too great. In the end, the Hawks breathed a sigh of relief for not relinquishing the lead and for being able to steal a game on the road against the Sixers, who lost just seven of 29 home games this season. In fact, prior to game one’s defeat, the Sixers hadn’t lost a game at home since April 21st. Philadelphia has been one of the NBA’s best home teams for several years now so for the Hawks to take even one at the Wells Fargo Center, had to feel like a big momentum swing heading into game two.
Game Two Recap – Joel Embiid Drops 40; Leads Sixers to Victory
After injuring his knee in the Wizards’ series, there was a question of if Joel Embiid would play against the Hawks and how effective he’d be. Would the all-star be at 100 percent? Well, Embiid answered that question with a 39-point performance that almost brought the Sixers a victory in game one.
In game two, Embiid followed that up with an even better showing, one that led the Philly faithful to chant “MVP,” even though the league had announced just hours prior that Embiid did not win the award. That didn’t matter to the fans or to Philly’s star, as Embiid, focused on a championship, put in the kind of numbers that MVPs do in big games. Knowing the Sixers had to win game two or risk going into Atlanta in a big hole, Embiid dominated from buzzer to buzzer.
The man who has come to embody the phrase “Trust the Process,” gave fans everything to cheer about as he led all scorers with 40 points and a +/- of +14. Young, who found a challenge in game two as the Sixers defense figured out how to guard him, was less than efficient, scoring just 21 points, going just 1-of-7 from three-point range and finishing with a –11. Ultimately, all of the Sixers starters landed in + marks as the team defeated the Hawks soundly, by a final of 118-102. It was the kind of clap back win Philadelphia needed to shift momentum back in their favor. Because while the Hawks managed to steal a win off the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center, the series still runs through Philadelphia, and the game two win ensured that. At worst, the Sixers will return home down 3-1 with a chance to tie the best-of-seven on their own court. At best, they’ll come home for game five to clinch a spot in the conference finals.
Philadelphia Keys to Game 3 – The Sixer Bench
It’s pretty remarkable what Embiid has done this series considering he may or may not be playing with a bum knee. For everything Embiid was in game two, he didn’t win that contest, Shake Milton did. Milton had yet really to get going in the postseason, following a lackluster end to the regular season as well. Doc Rivers placed his faith in his young star and Milton delivered in every way possible. Just as the Hawks took the lead, Milton provided the spark Philadelphia needed not only to get Embiid some rest but also to take control over the final quarter. Milton was 4-from-5 from beyond the arc and put in 14 points in just 14 minutes of play. Before Milton, the Sixers bench was anemic, combining for only 12 points the entire game.
For the Sixers to get that little bench production and still win by 16 is impressive, but certainly not sustainable. Embiid will get his, Tobias Harris will get his, and Ben Simmons will have his impact on the game whether or not he is lighting up the scoreboard. This team’s real strength and difference maker will be the bench, much as it was during the regular season. Guys like Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle were stars and played a huge role in the Wizards series. Both have yet to have that kind of impact on round two. If the Sixers want to win and make things easier for Embiid, they will need the bench to be a big part of that.
Atlanta Keys to Game 4 – Persona vs Performance
Trae Young is a superstar emerging before our eyes but if he focuses too much on the ancillary role of villain, his Hawks could find themselves in trouble. Young has admitted that he thrives in the role of playing the heel but in game two, his shot was not going down and the impact Young had on the game was limited. Part of that came in the form of how the Sixers opted to defend him compared to the strategy they took in game one.
Philadelphia may have figured Young out which only means one thing, this villain will have to go back to his bag of tricks.
Young is a talented player but the idea of trying to get under an opponent’s skin and that of their fans, will only go so far. As the Philadelphia crowd showed, any missed shot he took was thrown back in his face. Young is willing to adapt the persona but when things go poorly, he must remain within himself. Young didn’t really have this problem against the New York Knicks as the Hawks easily took care of their first-round opponent. Philadelphia is a different story, and as good as Young may play the villain, he is contending with someone in Embiid who has his own reputation for being a bit of a heel. On the court, Young must deal with Ben Simmons, who can guard with the best of them. As Young continues to grow as a player, he must learn to understand that if the persona slips, the performance can’t slip with it.
Our Preview’s Philadelphia 76ers vs Atlanta Hawks Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
Despite being the road team, the sportsbooks are favoring Philadelphia -1.5 in this one to get the win in a closely fought contest. We’re backing this bet as we like the Sixers to take home the game three win. Philadelphia is just a more well-rounded team and if it’s a battle of superstars, Embiid can certainly give Young everything he’s got and then some. Plus, whereas Philadelphia can win the matchups, there is no one on the Hawks who has shown any ability to guard Embiid. So the predictions for this preview are:
- Take Philadelphia -1.5pts @ -110 with any of Bovada, Intertops, BetOnline or Bookmaker.
- The Sixers are the playoffs’ leading scorers (123.1 PPG). Go over 224.5 total points for this game @ -110 with Bovada or any of the other three firms.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.