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There were two games on Sunday’s schedule, a series opener and a series decider. While the visiting Hawks made things way too interesting down the stretch before beating Philadelphia, the Clippers became the first home team to win a game in their seven-game series against the Mavericks. Below is a look at these games, as well as an update on the status of a Nets star for Game 2 of their series against the Bucks.
Hawks 128, 76ers 124: Embiid returns, but Atlanta hangs on
The big question entering this second round series was when Joel Embiid, who suffered a slight tear in his right meniscus during Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss to Washington, would be healthy enough to play. Doc Rivers didn’t offer much in the way of details when asked what the MVP finalist did in Saturday’s practice, and he was officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s series opener against Atlanta. Embiid was ultimately cleared to play and he looked good, posting a line of 39 points (12-of-21 FGs, 14-of-15 FTs), nine rebounds, four assists, one steal, three blocks and one 3-pointer in 38 minutes.
While there was a moment late in the fourth quarter when Embiid appeared to tweak something in his right leg, he remained in the game without needing any assistance from 76ers medical staff. That bodes well for Tuesday’s Game 2, and it’s worth noting that after this game there will be two days off ahead of Game 3 (Friday). From that point onward, they’ll play every other day.
Outside of Danny Green (4/2/4/2), who shot 2-of-7 from the field, Philadelphia’s offense wasn’t the issue as far as its starters were concerned. Seth Curry (21/4/3 with five 3-pointers) shot 7-of-12 from the field, while Tobias Harris (20/10/3/3 with one 3-pointer) and Ben Simmons (17/4/10/4/1) also shot better than 50%. Simmons made all seven of his field goal attempts, but he was a putrid 3-of-10 from the foul line. Nate McMillan went to the “hack-a-Ben” strategy as the Hawks were hanging on for dear life late in the fourth quarter, and we should expect to see more of that moving forward. As for Philadelphia’s bench, Matisse Thybulle (10/1/1/1/1 with two 3-pointers) and Furkan Korkmaz (seven points, four rebounds and one 3-pointer) were solid, but not spectacular.
If there’s something to take away from Game 1, outside of Embiid looking like his usual self, it’s that Philadelphia better figure out how to deal with Trae Young in ball-screen situations. He played 39 minutes, recording a line of 35 points (11-of-23 FGs, 9-of-9 FTs), two rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and four 3-pointers. When he wasn’t able to find a teammate by way of either a kick-out or a lob, Young was able to go to his floater game in order to make the 76ers pay. The combination of Green serving as the primary defender and the 76ers relying primarily on drop coverage did not work early on, and that factored into the Hawks sinking 20 3-pointers on the day.
Following the game Simmons, who took over the job of defending Young during the second half, said that he wants the task from the start moving forward. “I probably will do that,” Simmons said. “I want to. If the refs aren’t going to call so many fouls and I can be physical and be 6-foot-10, then I’ll be 6-foot-10. We’ll have to see.”
Bogdan Bogdanovic (21/4/5/1 with five 3-pointers) hit a critical triple late in the fourth quarter, while John Collins (21/4/2/2 with three 3-pointers) converted a lob from Young that finally put the game to bed. With De’Andre Hunter ruled out due to a sore right knee Solomon Hill was moved into the starting lineup, and in 25 minutes he tallied six points, three rebounds, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers.
Those who are playing playoff DFS may be able to get a couple 3-pointers and some defensive stats from Hill if he remains in the starting five for Game 2, but that’s about it. There should be better options available among the four teams in action Tuesday night (Hawks, 76ers, Clippers and Jazz). Kevin Huerter had a good afternoon off the bench, playing 29 minutes and finishing with 15 points (6-of-9 FGs), five rebounds, four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers.
Clippers 126, Mavericks 111: L.A. pulls away, move on to second round
The final spot in the second round was finally determined Sunday, with the Clippers becoming the first home team to win a game in this series. While they had no answer for Luka Doncic (46/7/14 with five 3-pointers) in the first half, as he pumped in 29 points, the Clippers were once again able to make things more difficult for the electric point guard after halftime. The problem for Dallas: they got nothing from their bench, and there were no other difference-makers within the starting lineup.
Dorian Finney-Smith (18/10/2 with four 3-pointers), Kristaps Porzingis (16/11/1/2), Boban Marjanovic (14/10/3/0/1) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (11/3/1/1 with one 3-pointer) all scored in double figures, but none did enough to merit more respect from the Clippers defensively. In the case of Porzingis, it’s fair to wonder if he’s capable of being that “No. 2” behind Doncic if the Mavericks are to develop into a bona fide contender. The problem for Dallas, if they don’t believe in Porzingis to that level, is the money. This was the second season of a five-year max deal worth nearly $158.3 million, and the final year is a player option worth more than $36 million. Porzingis’ struggles with injuries hasn’t helped matters, either, so it goes without saying that there are some things that he and the Mavericks will need to figure out this offseason.
Dallas goes into the offseason looking to improve the roster around Doncic, with Hardaway Jr., Marjanovic and J.J. Redick (who didn’t play at all this series due to injury) all being unrestricted free agents. Jalen Brunson’s contract for next season isn’t fully guaranteed, Willie Cauley-Stein has a team option worth $4.1 million, and Nicolo Melli will be a restricted free agent. Of these names Hardaway Jr. is the most important, given his perimeter shooting ability and improved production this season.
As for the Clippers, they’re moving on to the second round with Game 1 of their series against the Jazz scheduled for Tuesday night. Kawhi Leonard (28/10/9/4/1 with one 3-pointer) led a balanced attack with three 20-point scorers, and seven players in double figures. Marcus Morris (23/5/2 with seven 3-pointers), Paul George (22/10/3 with two 3-pointers), Nicolas Batum (11/7/5/2/1 with one 3-pointer) and Reggie Jackson (15/1/1/1 with three 3-pointers) also contributed to varying degrees, and the contributions of reserves Terance Mann and Luke Kennard should not be overlooked.
Mann played 26 minutes, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and two 3-pointers, while Kennard added 11 points, one rebound, one assist and three 3-pointers in 15 minutes. Kennard played a total of 14 minutes in the series before Sunday’s clincher, and to his credit he was ready when his name was called. Patrick Beverley was a DNP-CD while Rajon Rondo played just nine minutes, as Los Angeles needed to go with more length/athleticism on the perimeter. We’ll see how the matchups with the Jazz impact Tyronn Lue’s rotation, but that series may be a better fit for Beverley than this one was.
Harden (right hamstring) ruled out for Game 2
James Harden, who left Saturday’s win over the Bucks due to what the Nets have called right hamstring tightness, has been ruled out for Game 2 Monday night. He played just 43 seconds in the series opener, and Harden’s absence meant an increased workload for fellow stars Kyrie Irving (45 minutes) and Kevin Durant (40). Also notable was Mike James’ playing time, as he racked up 30 minutes with Harden sidelined.
Given how well he played James should, at minimum, crack the 20-minute mark Monday night. He gives the Nets another capable playmaker, who can either set up his teammates or score himself. James also grabbed seven rebounds on Saturday, ranking third on the team behind Durant (ten) and Blake Griffin (14).
Milwaukee had no changes to its injury report, and the same can be said for the Nuggets and Suns (who open their series on Monday). Chris Paul (right shoulder) wasn’t on Phoenix’s report, which is a positive sign. But that was the case ahead of their Game 6 win over the Lakers, and he did take a shot late in that one.