Sixers are going to have to change how they defend the Hawks' Trae Young
PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers have a Trae Young problem, just as the New York Knicks did.
Doc Rivers had 76ers veteran Danny Green defend Hawks star guard Trae Young put the 76ers in a big hole from which they were never able to recover Sunday.
Green’s inability to stay in front of Young allowed the speedy Young to create open jumpers and alley-oops for his teammates, as well as scoring opportunities for himself in the Sixers' 128-124 Game 1 second-round playoff loss.
Young finished with 35 points and 10 assists for fifth-seeded Atlanta. He torched the Knicks in a 4-1 Eastern Conference first-round win, averaging 32.7 points in the three contests at Madison Square Garden en route to his initial postseason series victory.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night (7:30), with Games 3 (Friday, 7:30) and 4 (June 14, 7:30) in Atlanta.
“I thought they hit us in the mouth to start the game,” Rivers said. “They were the physical team and they took care of the ball in the first half and we didn’t. I think that was as big as Trae.”
When Defensive Player of the Year finalist Ben Simmons defended Young to begin the second half, Simmons picked up two fouls in the first three minutes, which resulted in Green quickly switching back to Young. Simmons wasn’t matched up with Young again.
“Obviously, Trae is very talented,” Simmons said. “He’s crafty and he’s not a selfish player, so he’s going to find his guys when he is open. At the same time, he’s looking for his, so a lot of respect to him. But I’m looking to come in there and see if I can be a little more physical next game and see if the refs are going to let us play a little bit.”
The only other viable option was second-year defensive ace Matisse Thybulle, who only guarded Young for one first-half possession before Young went to the bench for some rest. The primary issue with Thybulle tends to be his lack of scoring.
“(The problem) was our coverage in the double-teams (on Young) more than Danny (Green),” Rivers said.
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Thybulle got his shot late in the third period, when he had the most success against the elusive Young, and again in the middle and latter portions of the fourth quarter. Veteran backup guard George Hill also defended Young for one possession early in the final period.
Simmons typically covered Hawks 3-point specialist Bogdan Bogdanovic when the starters were on the floor.
“I probably will do that (defend Young more in upcoming games),” Simmons said. “I want to.”
The Sixers must have known what Young can do coming into the game. If not, he gave them quite a refresher course.
“The kid is good, for real – real skilled,” said forward Tobias Harris. “With the way he uses his body out there, he’s able to distribute the ball and score at the same time. … He pretty much had his way with us.”
The Sixers' decisions with the ball have to be better going forward, too. They committed 12 turnovers, to go along with just 7 assists, in the first 14 minutes en route to 19 in the game.
The frenetic Wells Fargo Center atmosphere resulted from star center Joel Embiid (game-high 39 points) returning from a small tear of the right meniscus that forced him to miss the clinching first-round victory over the Wizards and taking the floor with his idol, WWE superstar Triple H.
But the 22-year-old Young managed to quiet the Philly faithful, who serenaded him with chants such as “Trae Young’s balding.” He didn’t seem fazed at all, tallying 25 points in the first half.
A furious late rally moved the top-seeded Sixers within two points in the final minute on a Simmons backcourt steal and dunk, only for Bogdanovic (21 points) to knock down a pair of free throws to seal the deal.
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“The best thing that happened was we won and we have a lot of things we can get better at,” Young said.
The Sixers’ deficit went from 12 to 26 points during the 6:06 in which Rivers played his second unit together from late in the first quarter into the second period. The Philly coach also used Shake Milton briefly, meaning he stretched the rotation to 11.
“I would love to (keep playing 10 or 11 guys like I did against Washington, but) you just don’t know,” said Rivers beforehand. “Atlanta is a different beast.”
The Hawks were the only team in the NBA with nine double-digit scorers during the regular season, so they are more than a 1-man team. Atlanta went 20 for 47 (.426) from 3-point range and 20 of 21 (.952) from the foul line.
The open 3-pointers were a direct result of all the attention the Sixers had to give Young. The ball is in Rivers' and the Sixers' court to make the necessary adjustments to rein in Young during Game 2.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly