The lasting image from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals might be Danny Green chasing an unstoppable Trae Young around the court. If Ben Simmons has his way, it won’t be so easy for the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2. That is if the referees actually let them play basketball.
Simmons was part of a three-man rotation charged with shutting down Young. Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers started the contest with Green solely on him before mixing in Simmons and Matisse Thybulle in the second half. Young finished with 35 points, attacking the rim with ease and lighting it up from the perimeter. One of the reasons everything was so easy for the Hawks star was because the refs were calling too many ticky-tack fouls.
According to Simmons, the zebras wouldn’t let the 6-foot-10 point guard get too physical with Young. They were calling everything.
“I probably will do that. I mean, I want to [do that],” Simmons said when asked if he would take Young in Game 2. “If the refs ain’t gonna call so many fouls, I can be physical and be 6-10. But we’ll see. See if the refs are going to let us play a little bit.”
Rivers also vented his own frustration about the officiating in Sunday’s 128-124 defeat. He joked that he turned around and Simmons already had two fouls before he even started playing defense on Young. The Sixers star picked up his third foul with 9:03 left in the third quarter and finished with four personals. After the game, Rivers explained his decision to use Green on Young.
“Danny’s been pretty good on small guards all year but Trae’s not just a small guard, he’s a terrific guard,” Rivers said. “Everyone had their chance. Ben had him in the first half, you know it’s funny, I thought Ben picked up a couple of fouls — he picked up two fouls before playing defense and that was frustrating to see on Trae and then you had to worry about his fouls.”
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Explanation for Questionable Foul on Thybulle
Rivers was also miffed that he didn’t win a challenge following a questionable third-quarter foul on Thybulle. Young got two foul shots on what looked like barely an arm tap from Thybulle. Meanwhile, the instant replay showed Young may have gotten away with a push-off on the play. That happened with 1:58 remaining in the third quarter.
“I’m going to have to get an explanation on why that call wasn’t overturned,” Rivers said. “I don’t know what more solid defense you can have and they still gave the kid two free throws. Either we’re doing something wrong or we have to make sure that foul is called on him as well.”
Refs aside, Rivers knows the Sixers have to do a better job of trapping and rotating on Young. They gave up too many open looks to Atlanta’s three-point shooters. They knocked down a franchise playoff-record 20 threes in Game 1.
“We can absolutely be better in the way we rotated,” Rivers said. “Listen, we got a ton of looks, too. It’s one of those missed games, in that they made them all and we didn’t. But we can be better in the way we rotated for sure.”
Disappointing Home Loss, Ready for Game 2
The Sixers will have 48 hours to sit and marinate on a disappointing loss in Game 1. The fixes to their problems are easy to diagnose: stop Trae Young and don’t turn the ball over. The first one is the trickier one to figure out but the second comes down to mental focus. Philadelphia coughed it up 19 times, including nine turnovers in the first quarter alone. Yikes.
“You can’t have nine turnovers to start the first quarter and expect to be up,” Rivers said. “I thought that contributed as much as our coverage on Trae, with us getting down.”
Veteran forward Tobias Harris (20 points) called it a “lack of focus” and talked about going back to the drawing board. Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. back at the Wells Fargo Center.
“It was disappointing for sure being on our homecourt. Game 1 of the second round, disappointing,” Harris said. “But we put ourselves in that position at the beginning of the game with a lack of focus. We put ourselves in that position and here we are, so we gotta get our minds right. Go back to the drawing board, adjust on some things and come back for Game 2 and be ready.”