Cavs’ season was a huge success, but a massive disappointment at the same time

After falling to the Nets Tuesday night in Brooklyn in the Play-In Tournament, the Cavs had one more chance to get into the playoffs when they hosted the Atlanta Hawks Friday night.

It’s win or go home!

The Cavs got All-Star center Jarrett Allen back after he missed 19 games(including Play-In Tournament) with a fractured finger. Cleveland had their largest lead of 14 points in the first half and led by 10 at the half. However, Trae Young happened! The All-Star had 32 of his 38 points in the second half as the Hawks defeated the Cavs 107-101 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The Cavs season ends, while the Hawks capture the eighth seed and move on to face the Heat in first round of the playoffs, which begins Sunday in Miami. 

Here’s the Great, Not So Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ loss to the Hawks:

The Great for the Cavs:

-Lauri Markkanen played like he did not want to go home. He had 17 of his team-high 26 points in the first half to along with eight rebounds. Markkanen shot 10/17 from the field, including 6/12 from deep. Unfortunately, he did have a bad pass that was stolen by Kevin Huerter late in the fourth, which sealed the deal for the Hawks, but all and all, Markkanen did his job Friday night.

-Evan Mobley will be a special player, and he played well against the Hawks. The rookie had 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. Just like Tuesday night in Brooklyn, the moment was not too big for Mobley.

-Darius Garland struggled with his shot(9/27 FG), but he battled through it and finished with 21 points, nine assists, and three steals; however,  he did turn the ball over five times.

First Half:  The Cavs fed off their crowd in the first half. Cleveland shot 52% from the floor in the first quarter, including 67%(6/9) from deep. The Cavs led 36-25 after one. Cleveland made 10 threes in the first half and got great looks. In addition, they held the Hawks to 17%(3/17) from three-point range, and Cleveland led 61-51 at the break. 

The Not So Great for the Cavs:

Third Quarter: Great players do great things, and Young is a great player. Young woke up after being held to six points in the first half. He either scored or assisted on 27 of the Hawks’ 33 points in the quarter. He finished with 16 points in the third. Atlanta shot 61% from the floor(4/8 3-PT FG). The Hawks outscored the Cavs 33-23 in the quarter, took their first lead late in the third, and erased a 10-point halftime deficit. The game was knotted at 84, heading into the fourth.

Second Half Offense: The offense stagnated in the second half, and some credit has to go to Atlanta’s defense, which stiffened. Cleveland did not get the same looks they had in the first half. You often saw some 911 shots with the shot clock running down from the Cavs, and they had two shot-clock violations early in the fourth. After scoring 61 points in the first, Cleveland was held to 40 points in the second half. In the fourth, they shot only 33% from the field, including 1/8 from downtown. After making 10 threes in the first half, the Cavs made only three more the rest of the way.

Bench: The Hawks’ bench outscored Cleveland’s bench 25-9. Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo were not much of a factor in this contest. Maybe Love could have gotten more minutes, but Atlanta was trying to go after him on the defensive end. The Cavs’ starters were a combined +10, while the bench was a combined -40.

Bottom Line:

It’s kind of stunning how the season ended for Cleveland. At one point, especially after the addition of Caris LeVert, many thought this team could make a deep playoff run. Now, just like that, it’s over!

The season was a success. Players like Garland and Jarrett Allen grew and became All-Stars, and Evan Mobley looks like a star. LeVert will have a whole training camp to get acclimated with the team, and maybe they’ll bring back soon-to-be restricted free agent Collin Sexton or move him to get another piece. In addition, they will have a lottery pick, so that’s another opportunity to improve this roster. Youth is on their side as Garland, Allen, Mobley, and Markkanen are all under 25.

Even in saying the season was a success, it feels like a disappointment at the same time. They were in striking distance of the top spot in the East for most of the season, but the day that destroyed the season was March 6. Cleveland defeated Toronto in that game and was 37-27 and was the sixth seed in the East with a three-game lead over the seventh-seeded Raptors. However, Allen fractured his finger and missed the final 18 games of the regular season. During that stretch, the Cavs went 7-11. Also, during that stretch, Mobley went down with an ankle injury and missed five games. They overcame the injuries of Sexton and Ricky Rubio, but they did not overcome Allen’s injury.

Again, a fantastic season for the Cavs, and the future seems bright. However, from top to bottom, the East will be challenging, and here’s also the thing: Cleveland is not sneaking up on anyone, so expectations have changed, which means the pressure is on this young group to get better. We’ll see how they’ll respond next season.

What’s Next:

The offseason! It was a fun season!

Best of the Rest:

-LeVert had 16 points for the Cavs as all five starters scored in double figures. Allen, who was basically playing with one hand, had 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, and a block.

-Bogdan Bogdanovic had 19 points for the Hawks off the bench. 

-During the second quarter, Clint Capela suffered a right knee hyperextension after fouling Mobley. According to the team. he will undergo an MRI in Miami, and his status will be updated as appropriate.

Watch below as Garland and Mobley react to the loss to Atlanta:

Time for the Cavs to focus on Play-In Tournament

The Cavs headed to Atlanta to battle the Hawks Thursday night in the second game of a back-to-back.

Cleveland lost to the Mavericks 120-112 Wednesday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Atlanta dominated and led from wire to wire and defeated the Cavs 131-107 at State Farm Arena.

Trae Young had a game-high 30 points and nine assists; Kevin Huerter had 23 points. The Hawks had six players in double figures.

Cedi Osman led the Cavs with 21 points off the bench.

Cleveland(42-35) dropped their second straight, while the Hawks(40-37) have won four straight and five of their last six.

Here is the Great, the Not So Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ loss to the Hawks.

The Great for the Cavs:

You lose by 24 points and trail from start to finish; there’s really nothing extraordinary, but let’s show some love to Moses Brown, who signed a two-way contract with the Cavs earlier in the day. Brown had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. 

The Not So Great for the Cavs:

EVERYTHING!!

The Cavs’ starting forwards of Caris LeVert and Lauri Markkanen combined for 17 points on 7/17 shooting from the floor. LeVert had nine points, while Markkanen had eight. They needed more from these two guys. 

Turnovers: The Cavs had 15 turnovers in their loss to Dallas, and they came back and committed 14 more turnovers Thursday night, which led to 24 points for the Hawks. 

Three-Point Shooting: Cleveland did not guard the three very well, and they could not make many threes either. The Cavs were 7/30 from three-point range. Both Dylan Windler(0/5 3-PT FG) and Kevin Love(2-7) miss five threes apiece. Conversely, the Hawks made 17 threes.

Defense: For the second consecutive night, Cleveland gave up 100 points after three quarters. Against Dallas on Wednesday night, they allowed 120 points in regulation. Thursday night, Cleveland gave up 131 points, which is unacceptable, but again, not surprising when two of your best defensive bigs(Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley) are sitting in street clothes. The Hawks shot 50% from the floor.

Third Quarter: Against the Mavs Wednesday night, the Cavs were outscored 39-22, and Thursday night versus the Hawks, their third-quarter woes continued as they were outscored 34-22 in the quarter. The Hawks shot 55% from the floor in the quarter and held the Cavs to 32% shooting from the field, including 1/3 from downtown. Atlanta led by 13 at halftime and had a 100-75 lead after three quarters. 

Bottom Line:

This was a bad performance for the Cavs, but these games happen in the NBA. Cleveland is a tired, depleted team who, at this point, is limping to the finish line. Unfortunately, they’ll have four games in five nights, so there’s no rest for the weary.

The way they’re playing right now, the Cavs may not win another game in the regular season. However, maybe this loss could wake them up.

With fives games left, they trail the fifth-seeded Bulls(45-32) by three games and the sixth-seeded Raptors(44-32) by 2 1/2 games, so that situation looks bleak.

It’s all about the Play-In Tournament for the Cavs. If they stay at the seventh or eighth seed, Cleveland would have two opportunities to win one game to make the playoffs, which is very doable, especially when you consider that they could have two home games(if necessary) in this tournament.

Currently, the seventh-seeded Cavs have a two-game lead over Brooklyn(40-37), Charlotte(40-37), and the Hawks(40-37), so they are in decent shape. 

At the end of the day, the Cavs just need to start playing better!

What’s Next:

Cleveland heads to New York City to battle the Knicks Saturday night.

Best of the Rest:

Earlier in the day, the Cavs announced that they had converted the contract of guard RJ Nembhard to a standard NBA contract.

The 23-year-old Nembhard has appeared in 13 games this season for the Cavaliers as well as 13 games (12 starts) with the Cleveland Charge, the Cavaliers’ exclusively-owned and operated NBA G League team. With the Charge, Nembhard averaged 22.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in 37.7 minutes. Nembhard went undrafted in 2021 after playing four seasons at Texas Christian University.

-Darius Garland had 18 points and eight assists against the Hawks. The All-Star recorded his 171st assists in the month of March, which is a team record.

Listen below as Osman reacts to loss to Hawks:

Cavs’ Bickerstaff is happy with team as they head into All-Star Break

The Cavs traveled to Atlanta to battle the Hawks in their last game before the All-Star break, and as they did against Joel Embiid and the 76ers, Cleveland ran into another All-Star starter, who was at his best. 

Trae Young had 41 points(13/22 FG) and nine assists as the Hawks defeated the Cavs 124-116 at State Farm Arena.

The Cavs(35-23) have dropped two straight, and the Hawks(27-30) snapped a two-game losing streak.

Here’s the Great, Not so Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ loss to the Hawks.

The Great for the Cavs:

-Darius Garland has been great the whole first half of the season, and he continued that greatness Tuesday night. The All-Star had a team-high 30 points and eight assists. Garland is averaging 28 points and five assists in the last three games. 

-Evan Mobley scored over 20-plus points for the eighth time this season as he had a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also added four assists and four steals. 

First Quarter Kevin Love:  In the first quarter, Love had 14 points(4/5 3 FG), including four threes. Love also had a milestone in the first as he scored his 14,000th career point. He became the fourth player in NBA history to have 14,000 points, 8,000 rebounds, and 1,400 threes made. The other three players to do it were LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Kidd.

-Jarrett Allen, but not for anything he did on Tuesday night. After James Harden withdrew from the All-Star game due to injury, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that Allen would replace Harden.

The first-time All-Star was snubbed when the All-Star reserves were initially announced; he once again was snubbed when LaMelo Ball replaced an injured Kevin Durant.

However, Allen would finally get the call on Monday. 

Going into the break, Allen is averaging 16.2 points, 11. 0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.3 blocks per contest. The points, rebounds, and assists are all career-highs.

Allen finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, and four assists Tuesday night.

First Quarter: The first quarter has been an issue for the Cavs of late. Cleveland trailed after the first quarter in the last seven games, but that streak was snapped Tuesday night. Love(14) and Garland(10) combined for 24 of Cleveland’s 36 points. The Cavs shot 56% from the floor, including 67%(8/12) from deep, and Cleveland led 36-34 after one.

The Not So Great for the Cavs:

-Fast Break Points: The Cavs allowed the Hawks to get out in transition as Atlanta had 16 fast- break points. The Hawks are 29th(9.4 PPG) in fast-break points, but they moving and grooving Tuesday night.

Cleveland scored 116 points on 51% shooting from the floor Tuesday night, but unfortunately, they allowed the Hawks to score 124 points on 54% shooting from the field. Cleveland had difficulty keeping Young under control without fouling as he shot more free throws(13) than the whole Cavs’ team(12). The 124 points were the most points the Cavs have given up since their season-opening loss to Memphis, where they allowed 132 points. 

Fourth Quarter: The Cavs trailed 94-90 after three. They got to 99-98 with just under ten minutes to go, and Atlanta went on a 6-0 run to push the lead to 105-98. Cleveland cut the lead to 113-109 with over four minutes left, but the Hawks went on a 7-2 run to push the lead to nine. 

Kevin Love after the first quarter: After scoring 14 points on 4/5 from three-point range in the first, Love struggled the rest of the way. He scored seven points on 3/12 shooting from the field, including 1/ 4 from downtown. He finished the game with 21 points and seven rebounds.

-Caris LeVert had an off-shooting night against the Hawks. He was 4/12 from the floor, including 1/6 from deep, and finished with nine points off the bench. After scoring 22 points(10/19 FG) in the win over Indiana, LeVert was 9/28 from the floor in the last two games.

Bottom Line:

Even though the Cavs have lost two straight heading into the break, they should be pleased about their start to the season. Not many expected the Cavs to win 35 games this season, and Cleveland has that number after 58 games, so that’s a win for this team.

They have to gear up for the second half of the season and the playoffs. Cleveland will have a busy month of March, as 13 of their 16 games are against playoff teams, so that won’t be easy.

As they head to the break, Cleveland(fourth seed) is two games behind the Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We lost to two good basketball teams, two players that are elite players in Trae Young and Joel Embiid,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said postgame. “They had great nights and they had to have great nights to beat us, so we’ll go back obviously and come back confident and ready to go.”

What’s Next:

Cleveland returns from the All-Star break on February 24 when they travel to Detroit to battle the Pistons.

Best of the Rest:

-Danilo Gallinari added 25 points, and De’Andre Hunter chipped in with 18 for the Hawks. 

-Cleveland’s Lauri Markkanen missed his 11th straight game with an ankle injury.

-For the fourth time this season, Cleveland had three 20-point scorers(Garland, Mobley, Love) in a game.

Watch below as Garland and Mobley talk loss to Hawks:

Hawks’ Collins to miss next three games with foot injury

Hawks forward John Collins is expected to miss the next three games with a right foot strain, the team announced Saturday.

Collins, who left Friday’s loss against San Antonio with right heel pain, had an MRI Saturday, which revealed the injury. 

According to the team, following a period of rest, treatment, and daily monitoring this week and throughout the All-Star break, his status will be updated as appropriate.

This season, Collins, who signed a five-year, $125 million deal in the offseason, is averaging 16.8 points and 7.9 per contest.

Doc Rivers praises Thybulle’s defense in team’s win over Hawks

The Philadelphia 76ers improved to 4-2 on the season after defeating the Atlanta Hawks(3-3) on Saturday night, 122-94, at The Wells Fargo Center, in their first meeting since last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals showdown.

Here’s the Great, Not the Great, and the Bottom Line of Philly’s win over Atlanta.

The Great for the 76ers:

-Philadelphia had six players in double-figures led by Tobias Harris, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds, both team highs. In the process, Harris became the 15th player this season to have multiple 20-10 games (Stathead).

-Joel Embiid had 19 points, five rebounds, two assists, and a block. Embiid and Harris accounted for 29 of Philly’s first 60 points.

-Sixers’ backcourt played well on Saturday night. Tyrese Maxey had 16 points and three assists; Seth Curry added 15 points.

Maxey also did a great job on Trae Young, who had 13 points and 10 assists on 5/16 shooting.

“He did a good job,” Curry said about Maxey. “He stuck to the game plan. Continued to chase him(Young) everywhere all over the floor, fight off the screens. So, that’s all you can really do. Continue to pursue, work hard. And just trust your teammates as much as possible.”

Defense: Philadelphia’s defense held Atlanta to just .379 shooting from the field. This began in the first quarter as Philadelphia held Atlanta to 15 points on 6-22 shooting from the floor, marking the fewest points allowed in a quarter by Philadelphia since they limited the Golden State Warriors to just 23 in the fourth quarter of their matchup last March. (Stathead).

-Speaking of defense, Matisse Thybulle added 11 points, but he brought it on defense as he had four steals and three block shots. This season, he is the fifth player in the NBA to post at least 10 points, three steals, and three blocks in a game.

“He (Matisse) was great,” 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said. “The whole bench really… but Matisse just defensively all over the floor, steals, blocks shots, energy, drives offensively, which we work with him every day on, so he’s in a great place.”

Points in the paint: Philadelphia lived in the paint, and they had 60 points in the painted area. Philadelphia shot 53% from the floor.

Not so Great for the 76ers:

-Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That game and that series were so winnable for the 76ers. They blew big leads; Ben Simmons was a nonfactor and asked for a trade. Losing that series was unacceptable, but maybe it fuels the 76ers this season.

Bottom Line:

Philadelphia gets their revenge, and they pretty much led from start to finish against Atlanta. The Hawks will be a good team, and this was a quality win for the 76ers.

What’s Next:

The 76ers continue their four-game homestand on Monday night against the Blazers. 

Best of the Rest:

Cam Reddish returned home and led the Hawks with 16 points off the bench. Clint Capela added 11 points and 12 rebounds.

The Great, Not So Great, & Bottom Line of Cavs’ victory over Atlanta

Coming off a tough loss against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were hoping to get their first win of the season on Saturday in the second half of a back-to-back against the Atlanta Hawks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Fortunately for Cleveland, they got it done!

The Cavaliers(1-2)defeated the Hawks(1-1) 101-95.

The Great for the Cavaliers:

-After saying Friday’s loss was on him due to his six turnovers, Ricky Rubio came back strong against the Hawks. He had a team-high 23 points and eights assists; he also added six rebounds. Rubio is off to a excellent start for Cleveland as he got his second consecutive start for an injured Darius Garland(ankle).

-Evan Mobley continued his solid play on Saturday night. The rookie had his first career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He also had a game-high four block shots. The third overall pick anchored the Cavs zone defense. When the Cavs switched to a 3-2 zone, Mobley, according to Cavs head coach J.B Bickerstaff, acted as Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. 

“It’s a Flip Saunders zone that I watched a lot when I was in Minnesota,” Bickerstaff said. “Seeing Evan’s ability to move through that made me think of when K.G. was playing at the top of that zone.”

-Defense: In the first game of the season against the Grizzlies, Cleveland gave up 132 points, and in the next game versus the Hornets, they allowed 123 points. Against the Hawks, the defense was much better. Cleveland held Atlanta below 100 points(95), and the Hawks shot only 38% from the field. Great response by the Cavs on the defensive end, especially in the second half, as they allowed the Hawks to score only 40 points.

-Third-quarter: Cleveland got it done in the third quarter. They outscored the Hawks 31-17. Atlanta shot 6/26(23%) from the field. Mobley had 9 of his 17 points in the third, and Cleveland led by as many as 14 points in the quarter. The Cavs had a 21-0 run from the end of the second quarter into the third.

-Fourth-quarter: Yes, Cleveland was outscored 23-18 in the fourth quarter, but this has been a sore spot for the Cavaliers. In the first two games, they had been outscored by a combined 17 points. However, while they were outscored again in the fourth on Saturday night, they held on and won the game.

-Kevin Love and Isaac Okoro both gave Cleveland solid minutes off the bench. Love had 6 points and a team-high 11 rebounds on Friday night and had another strong performance on Saturday night with 12 points, six rebounds, and three assists in 24 minutes of action. Okoro added nine points, four rebounds, and three assists. In addition, the second-year player helped hold Trae Young to 8/22 shooting from the field. 

-Jarrett Allen had his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Allen had a combined eight rebounds in the first two games.

-Rebounding: Cleveland was outrebounded by both the Grizzlies(53-36) and Hornets(46-36), but Saturday night was a different story. The Cavs did a better job on the glass. Both teams had 54 rebounds. 

The Not so Great for the Cavaliers:

N/A!!!

Bottom Line:

Cleveland beat a Hawks team that went to the Eastern Conference last season, and they did it without Garland. The Cavs played with toughness, showed grit and heart—an excellent win for this team. Also, Cleveland needed this game because they have a tough five-game trip coming up.

What’s Next:

The Cavaliers begin their five-game road trip on Monday night in Denver against the Nuggets. After Denver, they have two in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Wednesday and the Lakers on Friday. They travel to Phoenix to play the Suns on Saturday, and they conclude their road trip in Charlotte on Monday(11/1).

Best of the rest:

Hawks’ Trae Young led the way for Atlanta with 24 points and seven assists, Cam Reddish had 19 points off the bench, and Clint Capela added 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Cavs’ Collin Sexton had 12 points and five assists, Lauri Markkanen added 12 points(3-15 FG) and eight rebounds.

Watch below as Love, Rubio, and Mobley react to Cleveland’s first win of season:

Mavs’ Kidd: ‘We gotta get better in that third quarter, and we will’

The Atlanta Hawks came into the 2021-22 season trying to prove that last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals wasn’t a fluke, while the Mavericks, with a new coach in Jason Kidd, are hoping to make a deep playoff run of their own. 

After one game, Atlanta looks deeper than they did last season and a team that will definitely be a factor in Eastern Conference. The Hawks had six players in double figures led by Cam Reddish’s 20 points off the bench, Trae Young had 19 points and 14 assists, and John Collins 16 points and nine rebounds as the Hawks routed the Mavericks 113-87 at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night.

The Hawks were big-time on the defensive end; they held the Mavericks to 33% shooting from the field and forced 15 turnovers. Atlanta blew the game open in the third quarter with 22-8 run. The Hawks led by as many as 22 points in the third and had their largest lead of 30 in the fourth. 

Young got off in the third. He scored 12 points and nine assists in the quarter, and Kidd, who knows a lot about excellent point guard play, talked about Young’s passing and Dallas’ struggles in the third.

“He’s improved, and I said that before,” Kidd said about Young. “He’s gotten better each year on the one side of passing the ball and not turning it over… “In the first half, we couldn’t ask for a better defensive performance. We just couldn’t make any shots. You’re talking about an All-Star in Young.. We gotta get better in that third quarter, and we will.”

Doncic, who led the Mavericks with 18 points on 6/17 shooting from the field, added on the third quarter: “They were making shots, and we weren’t making shots. They played great defense, and we weren’t at their level on defense, so that’s it.”

The Mavericks may struggle initially as the team learns to adjust to Kidd’s new offense and style, and it’s only one of 82, so there’s not much to worry about at this point. Plus, Atlanta appears to be a very good team.

Dallas gets back at it on Saturday in Toronto against the Raptors. 

 

 

Hawks extend Young, re-sign Collins, Williams

The Atlanta Hawks have signed point guard Trae Young to a max contract extension, which begins with the 2022-23 season, re-signed F John Collins and G Lou Williams, the team announced on Friday.

According to reports, Young signed a five-year, $172 million rookie max contract extension. Collins reportedly signed a five-year deal worth $125 million, and Williams signed a reported one-year deal worth $5 million.

Most recently, Young, 22, helped lead the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in Atlanta franchise history, averaging 28.8 points and 9.5 assists per game during the team’s run. The three-year veteran became the first player in NBA history to post at least 20 points and seven-or-more assists in each of his first 13 career playoff games.

In 63 starts last season, Collins, 23, averaged 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.0 blocks in 29.3 minutes. The four-year veteran finished 18th in the NBA in FG%, tied for 23rd in rpg and 26th in bpg.  

During the Hawks’ recent run to the Eastern Conference Finals, Collins put in 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.

In 66 games last season (24 with the Hawks and 42 with the Clippers), the 34-year-old Williams averaged 11.3 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.1 rebounds in 21.6 minutes. The 16-year veteran is a three-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man Award (2015, 2018, 2019, tied with Jamal Crawford for the most in league history).

The Hawks have a nice young core, and Young, who had a tremendous playoff run, is turning into one of the best point guards in basketball. Collins is young, athletic, and continues to grow his game. Hopefully, he continues to grow after getting paid. Williams is not a walking bucket any longer, but he can still score.

Atlanta might be better next season, but it might not be good enough. Even though they beat Philadelphia in the playoffs, I think 76ers, Bucks, and Nets are still better for now, but the Hawks are still a franchise that is trending upwards.

 

 

Ex-NBA C.J. Watson on Simmons against Hawks: ‘Honestly, it’s hard to watch’

The Philadelphia 76ers had a great opportunity to make a long playoff run this season. Philadelphia had the best record in the Eastern Conference and was clear favorites against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After three games, the 76ers led the series against Atlanta 2-1 and had an 18-point lead in Game 4 and a 26-point lead in Game 5, but they would lose both games and ultimately lose the series in 7. 

In the series against Atlanta, Ben Simmons, who was first-team all-defense this season, struggled on the offensive end. The three-time All-Star averaged 9.8 points per game in the series and shot 15/45 from the free-throw line. Late in Game 7, he had an opportunity for a dunk, but it passed it off. Simmons took only four shots in Game 7 and finished the game 2/4 from the field with only five points. 

According to former NBA player C.J. Watson, a recent guest of the Go4it podcast hosted by Paul Gant, it was tough to watch Simmons struggle against the Hawks.

“I think it’s just a lack of confidence,” Watson said. “Honestly, it’s hard to watch, but the NBA Is going into bigger guards, which is fine, but you gotta be able to score. If I were a coach or GM, I would want to pick players, who are all threats on the court, so I want five people who can shoot the ball, who can dribble, and who can be all interchangeable. Things of that nature.”

When asked if the 76ers can have success with Simmons if he does not shoot, Watson said the following.

“Without shooting, I don’t think so,” Watson said. “I think he has to develop a jump shot, at least. “It doesn’t have to be a three-point jump shot. It has to be at least a free-throw line jump shot, be able to hit a pull-up jumper, something of that nature, but he has to be able to score the ball. Like we said, he’s already an effective player. If he could add that one piece to his game, he could be even better. and help his team more.”

Philadelphia has an interesting decision to make with Simmons. Do they keep him and hope he grows his game on the offensive end, or do they trade him? 

If it were up to Watson, Simmons would be traded.

“I think I have to break them up,” Watson said about the Embiid-Simmons pairing. “I think they need more shooting around a guy like Joel Emibiid. He definitely has to have shooting. They have to take the model like the Phoenix Suns have. If you have a big like that, who can score the ball, you have to put a lot of shooting around him, a lot of guys who don’t need the ball, a lot of defensive guys. I think that’s what they’re missing.”

You can win with the 24-year-old Simmons if you don’t have to rely on his scoring, so if Philly can find another scorer, they can win. However, if they bring the same team back next season, they will continue to run into the same problems unless Simmons grows his game on the offensive end.

Watson talks Simmons at the 10:20 and the 31:46 mark of the video:

The 76ers will get to the Eastern Conference finals, guaranteed!

The Philadelphia 76ers were in complete control in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference second-round series against the Hawks on Wednesday night. Philly was up by as many as 26 points in the third quarter and entered the fourth quarter leading by 18 points.

However, things went south for Philadelphia in the fourth. The Hawks outscored the 76ers 40-19 in the final quarter, and ultimately, the comeback was complete as Atlanta defeated the 76ers 109-106 at Wells Fargo Center to take a 3-2 series lead.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 26-point blown lead was the third-largest blown lead in a playoff game over the last 25 postseasons.

Game 6 is on Friday night in Atlanta, and if the Hawks could pull it off, they will return to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2015.

Trae Young had another huge game on the road. In six road playoff games, Young is averaging 32.2 points, 9.0 assists, and 3.0 rebounds. Young had 39 points and seven assists on Wednesday night, including 13 points in the fourth, and Lou Williams scored 13 of his 15 points in the final quarter.

What an amazing turnaround for the Hawks, and what a big-time letdown for the 76ers. In the past two games, Philadelphia, who had an 18-point lead against the Hawks in Game 4, has not gotten much from their top three players in the fourth quarter. Joel Embiid(1-10), Tobias Harris(0-5), and Ben Simmons(0-0) shot a combined 1/15 from the field in the fourth quarters of the last two games.

With their backs against the wall, Philadelphia will now have to win in a hostile environment to keep its season alive. State Farm Arena will be rocking on Friday night, but according to their head coach Doc Rivers, the 76ers will win Game 6 and bring the series back to Philly for Game 7 on Sunday night.

“We’ll get back up,” Rivers said postgame. “We’ll be back here for Game 7. I believe that.”

Philadelphia is still the better team in this series. Usually, the better team wins in a best-of-seven-series in the NBA, so expect the 76ers to bring this series back to Philadelphia and win it in 7. If they don’t, it will be a long offseason in Philadelphia

Notes:

Simmons has struggled from the free-throw line in the playoffs and this series. The Hawks used the “Hack-a-Ben” strategy in Game 5, and it worked. Simmons shot 4-14 from the line on Wednesday night and became the first guard in NBA history to miss ten free throws in a playoff game, and the ten missed free throws are the most by any player in a game this season.

In the playoffs this season, Simmons is shooting 33% from the foul line.

-Seth Curry had a career-playoff-high 36 points on Wednesday night. Curry shot 13/19 from the field, including 7/12 from three-point range.