The Sixers were caricatures Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center.
Across the board, their worst qualities manifested in extreme forms. For a 26-point lead to disintegrate, as it did in the Sixers’ Round 2, Game 5 loss to the Hawks, that sort of thing needs to happen.
It’s debatable how relevant culpability is in the wake of such painful, damaging defeats. All that matters in the end is the Sixers are one more loss from being eliminated. In a rewatch of the second half, what might be most notable is the ubiquity of the self-created errors. Every player who saw the court had a role.
The Sixers were sloppy to begin the third quarter. Furkan Korkmaz dribbled the ball off his foot; Joel Embiid sought contact from Clint Capela and coughed it up, leading to an Atlanta layup; Ben Simmons was loose on a grab-it-and-go attempt, instead starting a fast break for the Hawks. Sill, the Sixers held an 18-point edge entering the fourth quarter, the same margin as the lead they’d let slip in Game 4.
On the first possession of the final quarter, Shake Milton was bothered by ball pressure and forced out near half court by Kevin Huerter, though he managed to hit George Hill on the right wing. Hill, who made 1 of 5 field goals and has averaged 2.2 points on 29.4 percent shooting over his last six games, drove and misfired on an open runner. Fellow veteran Dwight Howard grabbed the offensive rebound and came up empty on a hook shot.
Within the next 75 seconds or so, Howard failed to box out Onyeka Okongwu, resulting in a put-back layup for the Hawks rookie, and committed a turnover trying to squeeze a close-range pass through to Tobias Harris. The Sixers’ hope entering the postseason was that, mainly through his rebounding excellence, Howard would be able to hold the fort down for a few minutes each half and buy Embiid a little rest. The unstated worry was that his decidedly non-modern game and miscues would cost them. Howard’s 22.8 turnover percentage during the regular season ranked in the first percentile among centers, per Cleaning the Glass.
For a time, Seth Curry enabled the Sixers to conceal their problems and hold off a bubbling collapse with tremendous shotmaking. He scored a playoff career-high 36 points on 13-for-19 shooting. But, though Curry switched onto Bogdan Bogdanovic starting in Game 3 and held up fine, he was targeted defensively over and over in the fourth period of Game 5.
A review of the lowlights: Curry allowed Lou Williams to reject a middle ball screen and knock down a floater with 8:26 to play. Thirty-two seconds later, Williams got Curry on a switch, earned space with his classic right-to-left crossover and scored again. Korkmaz and Curry then botched their coverage when Huerter went to screen for Williams and slid out to the wing, giving Williams a path to the paint that he gleefully accepted.
Curry played 37:33 and was likely wiped out from carrying the Sixers’ offense. He was a defensive weak spot, though. No way around it.
Harris was 2 for 11 from the floor, 0 for 3 in the fourth. Those numbers speak for themselves. They’re anomalous for a player who before Wednesday had scored 23.8 points per game and had 53.8/40.0/83.3 shooting splits this postseason, but Harris was unconvincing when asked to initiate the offense.
With Simmons subbed out because of Atlanta’s successful hacking, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers drew up an after-timeout play in which Harris received screens from Embiid and Milton. Embiid then established position at the nail against John Collins, a decent concept in theory. However, Harris overshot the pass.
After the Hawks secured a lead with 1:26 remaining, Harris drove baseline past a Collins closeout and passed up a short pull-up jumper, opting to hit Embiid about 10 feet from the hoop. Embiid was double teamed and found Harris next to the rim. He flipped up a lefty shot that Collins swatted away.
Embiid recorded 37 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks on a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, an admirable performance. The No. 2 MVP finisher did not have a shining second half either, though, shooting 3 for 9 after intermission.
Rivers doesn't have a stellar reputation with holding onto leads. His top-seeded, multi-All-Star team is amplifying that aspect of his coaching resume.
“It’s on us,” Rivers said. “It’s on all of us. It’s on me, it’s on the players, and we have to figure out how to get back up — which we will — and bring it back here for Game 7.”