By Dylan MacKinnon
Sixers survived, and will see a game 7 Sunday night. One win at home is all that stands between them and their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2001. But before we get to game 7, let’s revisit game 6, with the 5 numbers that to me, tell the story of the game, as well as the series so far.
It is impossible to talk about that game, or this series, without mentioning Seth Curry. He is far and away the most consistent player they have had vs the Hawks, and he is on a historic pace shooting from three. His 59.6 field goal percentage from 3pt range would be the highest every among qualifying players in a 7 game playoff series. It already is the highest through a 6 game series. Curry’s 3pt shooting has kept them in games when the other starters have struggled. Without him, this series would be over, and not in the Sixers favor.
Tyrese Maxey came into the game with both Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris in early foul trouble, and the direction of the game immediately changed. The Sixers had been on their heels. Unable to hit a shot or stop Trae Young. Then, suddenly they had energy, and closed the gap. They ended up being +12 in the 29 minutes Maxey played. He had 16 pts, 7 rebounds, and would have even had an extra 3 if the Hawks weren’t bailed out by Williams being called for a foul a millisecond before Maxey’s shot left his hands. Maxey was the savoir in game 6.
Can He carry that into being effective Game 7? Maybe, maybe not. he is still a rookie and you cant expect them to be that great every game. But he stepped up when they needed someone to. His future is bright, and he may even be able to keep contributing in the present too.
I am usually on the side that blaming refs is lame. And it is true, even if the refs suck, you should still be good enough to overcome that. But with that said, what we saw last night was ridiculous. The box score will show that the Hawks attempted only 1 free throw more than the Sixers did, but put in context, there is a different picture painted. 16 of those FTs, were off intentional fouls in the 4th quarter. So the Sixers got 7 FTs through the first 42 minutes before the Hawks first started intentionally fouling Ben. In fact no Sixers starter even attempted a FT until there was only 7 minutes left in the game.
And it is not like this is a jump shooting team, the Sixers were attacking the paint, and taking hard contact, they just didn’t get the calls. To make it worse it felt like Trae, or as Embiid calls him, “that point guard,” got a call for every soft contact made against him. All I ask is call the game even. Either let them be physical, or call all contact a foul. That was not the case last night. Embiid made the same argument in his post game press conference.
Joel Embiid: "I was hacked all night and I don't think I got a free throw until the fourth quarter."— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) June 19, 2021
"I told them they had to call it both ways... Especially because of the minimal contact, they get, the point guard..."
Tobias Harris has rightly taking heat for his game 5 performance. Four points from him in an entire game is unacceptable. But he bounced back from it, and was a steady scorer for the Sixers in game 6, finishing with 24 pts on 20 shots. He started slow, but he figured it out. People may be surprised to hear that the 4pts in game 5 was only the 2nd time this postseason he failed to score at least 20. The other was game 2 vs the Wizards where he has 19 through 3 quarters. But the Sixers were so far ahead he never came back in. It is fair to knock his one bad performance. But overall, Tobias Harris has been dependable. He also by the way has shot over 50% in 8 of the 11 games.
Tobias Harris does not deserve the level of scorn Ben Simmons is getting. Tobias has had 5 bad quarters this whole playoffs. It just so happens those 5 came in a row, and were involved in two bad Sixers losses. But he bounced back, and that has to count for something.
Ben Simmons free throw shooting is a major problem. It not only takes pts off the board, it takes him off the floor late in games. Teams are actually fouling him on purpose when he doesn’t even have the ball, because they are that confident he won’t hit them. His 33.8 FT rate through 11 games is the 2nd worst in NBA history. Only Ben Wallace at 27.3% was worse. You can say all you want about how it is a cheap tactic. I happen to think the NBA should change the rule. But right now, it doesn’t matter. It is the rule for this season, and it its not going to change right now. He has to hit them. If he could hit 60% the rest of the way it would stop them from using that tactic. Just be below average at it instead of historically bad.
Worst FT% by a player in a single playoff run (min 50 attempts):— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 17, 2021
27.3 — Ben Wallace in 2006
32.8 — Ben Simmons this playoffs
37.3 — DeAndre Jordan in 2016 pic.twitter.com/PLyx2QwG3s
But until then, he cannot be on the court in those situations. Having him fouled just to at best go 1 for 2 is not a winnable scenario. It slows the pace of the game down. And it makes it impossible for the Sixers to control the flow of the game.