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Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks
Friday, June 11, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) at State Farm Arena in Atlanta

Perception vs. Reality

From a player personnel standpoint, this series should absolutely stand at 2-0 in favor of Philadelphia.

The main reason why this series looks as competitive as it currently does is Doc Rivers, Philadelphia's head coach.

In the first half of Game 1, Rivers had Danny Green guard Trae Young and Rivers also had his team play drop coverage against Atlanta's ball screens.

These decisions allowed Trae-led Atlanta to amass a 20-point lead that the 76ers -- but just barely -- could not come back from.

I mention this first half of Game 1 because this initial stretch of play plus the fact that the spread is near even may encourage the perception that this series is and should be competitive.

But the reality is that, since Rivers adjusted, the 76ers have outscored the Hawks by a combined total of 32 points in the last three halves of basketball.

Limiting Trae Young

Philadelphia's edge in this series boils down to its ability to limit Atlanta's offensive centerpiece, such that Philadelphia's own offensive star flourishes to a greater degree.

Rivers adjusted by having Ben Simmons guard Trae and by having Embiid position himself higher in his ball-screen defense. He desists from executing drop coverage.

To be clear, the 76ers did still have Embiid in drop coverage, but only when they were leading by a lot of points.

With a larger lead, Philadelphia could afford to spare Embiid and conserve his energy by having him sit closer to the basket.

Embiid is an absolute tank because he brings tremendous scoring ability on the offensive end and manages to provide solid rim protection and stronger ball-screen coverage on the defensive end.

The nice thing about Simmons is that he does not have to devote nearly the same level of energy as Embiid does on the offensive end.

Simmons is a low-level creator in the half-court. He invests minimal energy driving inside. In transition, he gives up the basketball as if it were a hot potato.

These are all good things because Simmons can conserve his energy for the defensive end.

In addition to having a lot of energy, he is a solid defender in his own right. He was a Defensive Player of the Year finalist this season.

His huge length advantage -- he is 6'11 while Young is 6'1 -- makes it easier for him to be disruptive and to force shot-making to be difficult.

With his length as well as his speed, he also helps close down Trae's driving and passing lanes.

Largely due to Simmons, Trae managed 14 fewer points in Game 2 than in Game 1 and failed to convert 40 percent of his shot attempts.

Joel Embiid's Offense

Whereas Philadelphia has an answer for Young by putting Simmons on him, Atlanta lacks a similarly potent answer for Embiid.

Clint Capela is arguably Atlanta's top defender. In the regular season, he looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and had the best defensive rating among Hawk bigs who play double-digit minutes.

But Capela is unable to keep Embiid from amassing 39 or 40 points in a game this series. Embiid benefits from having 40 pounds and some height on Capela.

Missing De'Andre Hunter

Hunter has an overtly quiet personality. But the significance of his absence -- he has been ruled out for the rest of the series with recurring knee issues -- cannot be overstated.

Atlanta knows that it needs to double-team Embiid. But it's not enough to just double team Embiid because Embiid is used to being double-teamed and used to beating double teams.

This is where De'Andre Hunter comes in. Hunter is a solid defender who has a lot of length and he could use that length to bother Embiid.

Hunter could also use his length -- his wingspan is a solid 7'2 -- in addition to his lateral mobility to deter 76er players from driving inside.

But Tobias Harris and company are thriving inside -- they had 54 points in the paint last game -- partly because of Hunter's absence.

Trend

I also like the 76ers because of the following trend.

Since the 2016-2017 season, playoff home teams are covering the spread with just over 36 percent frequency in the game following a double-digit defeat.

Tonight presents a negative situation for the Hawks, although they are at home.

Total

I can't like the "over" when Trae seems relatively limited in his offensive capacity.

Also, Philadelphia's offensive success is coming mostly inside the arc.

In the same vein, its ability to position a single defender in front of Young makes it easier to contest three-point attempts and to limit more open three-point attempts.

Both teams could rely on uncharacteristic scoring efforts -- Atlanta on Kevin Huerter and Philadelphia on Shake Milton -- in Game 2.

One can only expect both players to fall back to Earth, such that both teams find less offensive support for their star players.

Best Bet: Parlay 76ers ML at -118 & Under 224.5 at -110 at +253 odds with BetOnline
 

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