3 Observations: Sixers Fall to Hawks in Ugly Performance

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers fell to 5-7 on the season after losing to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night 104-95.

The game was not as close as the score would indicate. The Sixers put together an ugly performance, with Joel Embiid (26 points, 13 rebounds) being the only Sixers player who produced well. No other Sixers player scored over 15 points on a night when the team shot 38.6% from the field.

Trae Young led the way for the Hawks, finishing with 26 points and seven assists. Clint Capela recorded 18 points and a season-high 20 rebounds.

Head coach Doc Rivers is going to need to make many adjustments to help the Sixers break out of their cold play to start the season. The absence of James Harden (right foot tendon strain) for the next month left a considerable void in the Sixers’ offense, especially in the playmaking area, that they will have to figure out how to fill. Here are three observations from the loss.

The Sixers need to fix their turnover issues.

The Sixers have not been turning the ball over as much as some teams, but that is not to say it is not an issue. Last night, the Sixers turned the ball over 17 times. The worst part about these turnovers is that they could have been easily avoidable. Several miscommunications and missed layups, as well as failing to get back on defense, led Atlanta to go on a 12-0 run to end the third quarter. The Hawks took an 80-66 lead into the fourth quarter.

Surprisingly, the Sixers are averaging more turnovers per game this season in wins than losses. This inconsistency is because they are forcing fewer turnovers than they do in wins. So far, their offense and defense have yet to seem to click simultaneously this season. The Suns game was the first game they appeared to be dominant on both sides of the ball, but even then, they suffered some second-half woes. 

The Sixers’ transition defense has not been pretty this season, and this was on full display last night. The Sixers let the Hawks score 18 points off of their 17 turnovers. Turning the ball over and then allowing the opposition to get easy points in transition is not a recipe for success. This struggle has been a recurring theme throughout the season and was especially prominent in their 0-4 start.

Tyrese Maxey looks lost.

Since Harden went down with an injury, Tyrese Maxey’s game has rapidly declined. His efficiency has taken a nosedive. He scored 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 shooting from three-point range in the loss to the Hawks.

He will eventually shoot his way out the slump he is in. The more concerning development is his poor decision making on the floor. He looked lost for much of the game outside of making a few nice reads on pick-and-rolls with Embiid. He does not seem to know his role with the team since Harden exited the lineup.

With Harden out, Maxey is the obvious No. 2 option, and he needs to fill that position. It is a lot of pressure for the 22-year-old to bear, but he has previously proven capable of handling a larger role. In his first three games without Embiid this season, Maxey averaged 34.6 points per game on 61% shooting from the field and 59% from three-point range.

In his first three games without Harden this season, Maxey is averaging 19 points per game on 29% shooting from the field and just 26% from beyond the arc. It is clear that Harden elevates Maxey’s game, but he will need to overcome being without Harden for the next few weeks. Harden, once known for his scoring prowess, is really being missed due to the team’s lack of secondary playmakers. Maxey will need to figure out how to succeed without Harden on the court. The duo of Embiid and Maxey should be elite, but they can not seem to get into their rhythm.

Doc Rivers is still a significant problem.

Ever since the first few games of the season, fans have been pushing for Rivers to get fired. This is due primarily to his offensive play calling. Half the time, it does not even look like a play was called, more so “just go run iso ball.” There were several plays throughout the season in which the Sixers as a team looked lost and stagnant on offense. There is a lack of creativity in the Sixers offense which is being amplified by Harden’s absence on the court.

While you can not pin last night’s loss on Rivers, you can say he could have done a better job. For one, he should have made it a priority to run the offense through Embiid for the entire game. He was hot early, putting up 17 points by halftime. With this success, the game plan should have been to feed Embiid the ball and watch him work.

That said, this was not even the most concerning part about his coaching. In the Sixers’ third-quarter collapse, the lineup consisted of Maxey, Shake Milton, Danuel House Jr., Georges Niang, and P.J. Tucker. There were no true bigs in this lineup. Running out those kinds of lineups is unacceptable, and it adds on to a history of poor rotation management by Rivers. While not all of the team’s problems boil down to poor coaching, Rivers is still very much warranting of being on the hot seat. If the Sixers keep losing, his job could be in legitimate danger.