Why the “Battle of the Benches” will Dictate the Sixers-Hawks Series
Now that we’re two games into the Sixers-Hawks series, some of the important trends are beginning to show, and one in particular stands out to me that a lot of people might not see. Leading up and even during the playoffs many of the contributors at the Liberty Line, including myself, have been stressing the importance of bench play for a deep Sixers playoff run. While I didn’t think they’d need to be a huge factor until the ECF, this Sixers-Hawks series has shown me that Philly’s role players will have to step up a little earlier.
Outside of Trae Young playing at an elite caliber this post-season, the deadliest part of this team in my opinion is the play of their bench so far this series. Atlanta’s bench certainly isn’t deep, but the three guys they’ve called on off the bench have played very well in these first two games.
First, let’s start off with one of three active gingers in the NBA, Kevin Huerter. Huerter is currently averaging nearly 18 points off the bench over the first two games of the series. What’s even crazier is that he’s shooting 73 percent from the field and 45 percent from three as well. Huerter has came on multiple times across the first two games and either extended the Hawks lead or cut the lead left by the Sixers starters. Defensively Huerter has even caused problems thanks to his 6-foot-7 stature when matched up against other shooting guards, recording two blocks in game two on Tuesday.
Next is the former Doc Rivers disciple in Danilo Gallinari. While he had a quiet game one from a points perspective, Gallinari is also shooting the triple extremely well off the bench for Atlanta. Across the first two games of the series Gallinari has knocked down six triples on eleven attempts. He also has the discipline to pass up contest threes for free cuts to the basket that turn into free dunks. Defensively Gallinari is an easy matchup in islolation, especially considering he has to spend some time on the court as the bonfide center with Capella out. Danilo did however bring down nine boards in game two, nearly giving him a double-double double. Regardless of his defense, his ability to shoot the ball is undeniable so far this series.
Finally, the former Sixers draft pick Lou Williams. From a box score perspective Lou hasn’t contributed a ton for the Hawks, but what he brings far exceeds any stats. This season I’ve talked constantly about how important veteran leadership is for the Sixers team filled with young players. Lou Williams is that glue for the Hawks, who’s team is just as young as the Sixers. His contributions is keeping the Hawks offense going with Trae Young off the court, and getting Atlanta in the sets that get them buckets.
The reason I’m detailing the Hawks bench so much isn’t just because they’re playing well, but because the Sixers bench has struggled against them as of late. Those three players I highlighted are one reason why Atlanta was able to hold a 20 point lead for three quarters in game one. Those three guys are one reason why Atlanta took the lead for a minute in game two, but it is also due to the Sixers rotational players.
In these first games, the Sixers bench has been outclassed by the Hawks constantly. Outside of Shake’s re-emergence last game, nobody on the Sixers bench has truly stepped up in the series outside of Matisse Thybulle’s defense. Furkan has struggled to find his shot, Tyrese Maxey hasn’t been as impactful as he was in the Wizards series, and Dwight Howard has looked out of place against the small-ball Hawks second-unit.
There’s no doubt that the Sixers starters are good enough to get leads against the Hawks starters, where Philly gets into trouble is when the bench players get onto the court. If Doc wants to keep trotting out full bench lineups for points of the game, he’s going to continue to surrender leads or help grow defecits. Bottom line is, if the Sixers don’t answer the production from the Hawks bench, don’t be surprised if this series goes a bit further than you are expecting.
Mandatory Credit: ESPN, Matt Slocum.