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The Hawks return to Atlanta with confidence in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers despite being unable to slow, let alone stop, Joel Embiid.
The 76ers big man has scored 79 points in the first two games in Philadelphia to open the series, which stands 1-1 in Game 3 on Friday in Atlanta – where the Hawks have won 13 games in a row.
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It’s the longest active home winning streak in the NBA.
“I hope the fans are ready to rock the house on Friday,” said Trae Young after Philadelphia’s 118-102 win in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
The Hawks will need their fans – but they also know they need to correct some issues on the pitch.
They expect better exterior shots from Young and his back space partner Bogdan Bogdanovic. And until they find a defensive combination to slow Embiid, Atlanta needs to better contain its teammates.
After finishing second behind Denver’s Nikola Jokic in the MVP vote announced before Game 2, Embiid had 40 points and 13 rebounds. The 7-foot Embiid, which is listed at 280 pounds, simply overwhelmed downtown Atlanta’s Clint Capela (6-10, 240).
Embiid realizes the challenge that awaits the 76ers in Atlanta.
“The series is only 1-1,” said Embiid. “There’s nothing to be really happy about. We have to go there and try to win both and win one at a time.”
Embiid is playing with a torn cartilage in his right knee.
“I try to do my best, restricted exercise and everything,” said Embiid.
If Embiid was restricted, it wasn’t obvious. He was active in Game 2 and even built up his defensive presence to disrupt Young’s outside shooting.
“Obviously he’s very skilled,” said Capela. “He’s one of the best in his position. Try to make it as difficult for him as possible. “
But Embiid can’t do it alone. Atlanta proved this with their 128-124 win in Game 1, showing that even a dominant performance from Embiid alone is not enough. He had 39 points in that loss.
With Young and Bogdanovic taking only 3 of 13 3-point shots together in Game 2, Philadelphia’s Shake Milton made four 3s while playing off the bench for just 14 minutes.
Milton was a determining factor, but Embiid had more help with the balanced attack in Game 2 of the 76s. Tobias Harris had 22 points, 16 of them in the first quarter. Seth Curry had 21 points while making five 3s.
The Hawks could get a boost on Friday night if De’Andre Hunter, the team’s top perimeter defender, can return after being held up with a pain in his right knee.
“Obviously he’s trying his best to get back on the ground,” said Young. “You definitely miss his presence on the defensive. … His knee is quite swollen.
Still, the Hawks know they have to make it harder for Embiid to score.
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“He’s a problem,” said Hawks trainer Nate McMillan. “We try to confuse our defense with him. Sometimes he goes too deep. Our doubles teams don’t come fast enough. … He has pretty much prevailed in the first two games.”
The Hawks expect a lot of energy at the State Farm Arena, where they last lost to Milwaukee on April 15th. Atlanta won both home games while it won its first round series against the New York Knicks in five games.
But despite Atlanta’s recent home dominance, the 76ers are favored in game 3 with 1 1/2 points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Atlanta are trying to beat the odds and continue to beat playoff expectations.