GRADES: Sixers ground the Hawks (again)

After shellacking the shorthanded Hawks on Wednesday, the Sixers were faced with a freshly returned Trae Young in Friday night’s bout with Atlanta. The results, however, were remarkably similar. While the margin of victory was 22, instead of 44, this game was all Philadelphia after the first quarter.

While the Hawks were still down several important players, this constitutes an impressive win over one of the NBA’s hottest teams post-All-Star break. Atlanta is currently fifth in the East and could meet the Sixers in the second round if Philadelphia reclaims the top seed. To beat them so thoroughly in back-to-back outings is a good sign.

Naturally, it starts inside, where Joel Embiid (and, even more so, Dwight Howard) dominated the paint. Clint Capela was held to 17 minutes because of foul trouble, and the likes of John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, and Onyeka Okongwu stood very little chance against the Sixers’ bruising centers.

This was also Ben Simmons‘ best game in a minute, scoring 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 27 minutes. He was aggressive early and made a series of impressive plays on defense, with a steal, block, and multiple deflections to show for it.

After weathering Atlanta’s early push, just about everything went right for Philadelphia. The Hawks’ defense provided minimal resistance, the bench put forth a well-rounded effort, and the Sixers were usually adept at penetrating the defense and making the right passes on the perimeter. Doc Rivers is a shrewd offensive coach, and when the ball movement hums like it did tonight, the results are generally favorable.

The Sixers had seven players score in double figures as they dropped in a crisp 126 points. Trae Young was able to get his in the scoring department, but not without four turnovers to his four assists. Elsewhere, Atlanta struggled to find consistent contributors on offense.

Grades as, for the second time in three nights, the Sixers run roughshod over the undermanned and out-gunned Atlanta Hawks.

DWIGHT HOWARD

C, 76ers

A+

17 mins | 19 pts | 11 reb | 1 ast | 0 stl | 2 blk | 2 TO | 8-11 FG | 0-0 3PT| 3-6 FT | 2 PF | +16 |

Howard put in work against his former team, dropping 19 points on 11 shots in 17 minutes. Atlanta’s second unit bigs were helpless on the interior, with Hawks rookie Okongwu giving up two and-ones to the bigger, stronger veteran in the third quarter. This was the best of what Howard can bring to the second unit.

BEN SIMMONS

PG, 76ers

A

27 mins | 18 pts | 6 reb | 5 ast | 1 stl | 1 blk | 0 TO | 8-10 FG | 0-0 3PT| 2-2 FT | 2 PF | +9 |

Simmons was aggressive early, which is always a good sign with the 24-year-old. The Hawks have very little answer for him defensively, and Simmons took advantage with strong drives, a lingering presence on the glass, and a couple show-stopping dunks. He was also his typically brilliant self on defense, switching seamlessly between positions and getting his hands in Atlanta’s way.

MATISSE THYBULLE

SF, 76ers

B

23 mins | 10 pts | 1 reb | 5 ast | 4 stl | 0 blk | 0 TO | 5-8 FG | 0-2 3PT| 0-0 FT | 5 PF | +19 |

This was one of Matisse Thybulle’s better offensive games — a common trend of late. He scored 10 points on eight shots and dished out five assists. His improvement driving the basketball and attacking closeouts is notable. He was also a pesky defender, en route to four steals. The only knock is five fouls in 23 minutes, which is the occasional side effect of his live-wire activity on defense.

JOEL EMBIID

C, 76ers

B

25 mins | 18 pts | 6 reb | 1 ast | 1 stl | 1 blk | 3 TO | 6-14 FG | 1-2 3PT| 5-5 FT | 3 PF | +8 |

In a somewhat rare turn of events, it was really the second unit that launched Philadelphia into the driver’s seat tonight. Even so, Embiid was his typically efficient self — 18 points on 14 shots in only 25 minutes. Getting him extra rest is always a preferable outcome. He looked fine against Capela and much more than fine against Atlanta’s other defenders. He had some minor foul trouble in the first half, but Philadelphia dominated the second quarter too thoroughly for it to matter.

SHAKE MILTON

SG, 76ers

B

22 mins | 13 pts | 1 reb | 4 ast | 0 stl | 0 blk | 1 TO | 5-11 FG | 2-3 3PT| 1-1 FT | 3 PF | +19 |

Shake Milton continues to turn things around after a particularly unsavory stretch of play post-All-Star break. His biggest strength is his swagger and confidence as a scorer. When shots are falling, Milton can give the second unit a real boost. Shots well at a reasonable rate tonight, and he’s starting to reassert himself in the rotation.


Philadelphia should emerge with more motivation to get the one-seed given the likelihood of a meeting with Atlanta in the second round.

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday, May 2 in San Antonio at 8 PM E.T.