By Sean Kennedy
Atlanta 103, Philadelphia 95
Fresh off their first win since January, the Sixers were in search of an actual winning streak, something archivists tell us happened in ancient times when the team scored more points than the opponent on consecutive occasions. It actually seemed possible against a Hawks team that found themselves in a tumultuous free fall down the standings. Having lost 6 straight games (a skid which doesn’t seem like much after witnessing a 26-game drought, but is extremely harmful when trying to hold on to a playoff spot), Atlanta would have found themselves back in lottery position with a loss combined with a Knicks win Monday night.
Things started off terrifically for Philadelphia as Thad Young, playing down the road from Georgia Tech where he played one year of collegiate ball, was on fire in the first half. Young hit his first 3 three-point attempts, and finished 5-6 behind the arc on the game for 23 points. Meanwhile, the Hawks were ice-cold from the perimeter early on, missing their first 10 threes as they fell behind Philadelphia by double digits. Only the tenacious play of Paul Millsap (game-highs 28 points and 17 rebounds) kept Atlanta hanging around. Were Sixers fans in store for another inexplicable winning streak like the beginning of the season or New Years? Did the Sixers forget how to lose?
As it turns out, no, the Sixers still had their map to guide them on the road to defeat. Coming out of the locker room, Atlanta began playing like the team trying to preserve a 1-game lead on a playoff spot, and Philadelphia regressed to the type of play that saw the team go winless over two months. The Sixers began carelessly turning the ball over, and the Hawks’ outside shooting shifted back toward the mean. Atlanta went on a 9-0 run at the end of the third quarter as the Sixers went the last 5 minutes of the period without making a field goal.
Fortunately, Michael Carter-Williams stepped up to pick his team up out of their doldrums. The rookie dropped 8 of his 16 points in the final frame, and finished 1 rebound and 1 assist shy of a triple-double. However, with the Sixers neck-and-neck with Atlanta down the stretch, old friend Lou Williams hit 2 huge threes in the final two minutes to finish off his former squad. Sweet Lou had 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, proving pal Bow Wow isn’t the only native son of the ATL who knows about playing baaaasketball. The tanking is still strong with this one, young Sam Hinkie.
- The broadcast pointed out that with averages of better than 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in March, Michael Carter-Williams is the first rookie with those stats across a month since Grant Hill in 1995. MCW may still be looking to develop his outside shot, but he’s made made huge strides with the floaters and acrobatic finishes around the rim that have formed the core of his offensive game. Combined with everything else he does on the floor, the former Syracuse guard has re-cemented himself as the Rookie of the Year after a mid-season lull.
- Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer ordered the intentional foul of Jarvis Varnado toward the end of the first half. With Varnado shooting 50% from the line on the season, it was flattering for Budenholzer to think the Sixers offense was capable of better than 1 point per possession. Ironically, Varnado hit 1 of 2 after the intentional foul, and it was the only free throw he sank in 7 attempts on the game. Someone needed to break up the Philadelphia juggernaut after six quarters of dominating play.
Sadly, Milwaukee lost a close game in Detroit and I’ll reiterate that the Sixers are likely locked into the second-worst overall record. MCW continues to make strides in orchestrating the offense, while the team received largely positive performances from Henry Sims and James Anderson. Alas, those bettors out there we took the Sixers over 16.5 wins on the season were denied their clinching victory. Likely, the team just wanted to keep things interesting over the final two weeks of the season. 4/5 tanks