Sixers vs. Hawks series Game 2: 3 storylines to watch

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Spotlight on officials, defensive approach on Young for Sixers-Hawks Game 2 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Hawks avoided a terrible collapse Sunday at Wells Fargo Center, meaning the Sixers need a win Tuesday night to even their second-round series. 

Joel Embiid (small right lateral meniscus tear) will play after being listed as questionable Monday night. 

Game 2 will tip off at 7:30 p.m. on TNT, with Sixers Pregame Live beginning at 7 p.m. on NBCSP+. Sixers Postgame Live will air on NBCSP+ after the game.

Here are three Game 2 storylines to watch: 

All-bench nothingness 

Game 1 went from bad to worse for the Sixers once the team's starters exited. Down 15 points at the end of the first quarter, the Sixers trailed by 26 by the time their second unit was completely off the floor.

What did Rivers see from his all-bench lineup offensively?

“Nothing,” he said. “Really. I thought their unit ran what they wanted to run. We didn’t run what we wanted to run. We lacked discipline in how we ran our offense throughout the game — both units, honestly. But that unit can be way better. We obviously, for the most part, have had Tobias (Harris) or Ben (Simmons) with that unit. 

“Last night we didn’t early, because we extended their minutes because we were down so much. But that unit, even as itself, has to be a better-executing unit. I think they had three or four turnovers in that stretch, and those things can’t happen.”

Given how much it hurt the Sixers in Game 1, we’re assuming Rivers will be more reluctant to play his second unit without at least one starter on the floor for the rest of the series. We’ll see. 

Rivers puts spotlight on the officials 

Simmons and Rivers each expressed displeasure with how Trae Young was officiated Sunday. 

Rivers, who finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting Monday, continued making the case that Simmons sometimes is not officiated fairly. 

“Aggression shouldn’t be a foul,” he said. “One of the things I’ve done is I’ve catalogued those plays all year, so it’s not just Trae. In general, how many times Ben has been called for fouls for playing just physical, good defense — arms are in; he’s physical; he’s doing nothing; the offense is bumping just as much as the defense. I have a list of games. 

“And the whistle blows. It’s almost hey man, that’s defense, you know? It is what is, and you always have to adjust to it. That’s one thing I tell our guys. But you should never be penalized for straight, solid, legal, physical defense.”

Rivers said the Sixers do not often send plays that they disagree with to the league office, though he keeps track of certain incidents in which he believes Simmons was inaccurately called for fouls.  

“I don’t really do that aggressively,” he said. “I think the league does a pretty good job of seeing, for the most part. But I do with Ben complain a lot, just in general. I don’t think you should ever be penalized for being a great defender, being able to be at 6-10 and get over picks. When a guy’s 6-10 and he gets over picks and gets into the body, it looks physical, but it’s legal. So you should never be penalized for that. And guards are so clever. They throw their arm back, and then it’s a foul. But we’ve sent some in. Have I lobbied all year? No, I haven’t done all that. But we do keep catalogues on it, because we may need it one day.”

The officiating crew for Game 2 is Scott Foster, Tony Brothers and Ken Mauer. Derrick Collins will serve as the alternate official. 

Who defends Young? 

The Sixers’ first-half game plan on Trae Young for Game 1 was highly ineffective.

Danny Green started the game on Young and the Sixers mostly played drop pick-and-roll coverage. Young had 25 points and seven assists before halftime. 

Outside of forcing Young to face pressure and multiple defenders and not allowing him to turn the corner on Atlanta’s double drag actions, what else can we expect the Sixers to change? Will Simmons guard Young more after only spending 88 seconds on him Sunday?

“Ben wasn’t on him a lot,” Rivers said. “We like Ben on Trae. We don’t like him on him all game. Trae does a great job of drawing fouls, and so we’ve got to be careful with that. Some he gets fouled, some Trae sells them pretty well. Listen, if Ben’s allowed to guard him then yeah, I’m all for it. And then Ben has to do a good job on him, as well.”

Rivers also noted the Sixers like Simmons as a defensive “roamer” who can rotate down to pick up the Hawks’ rolling big men. 

“They got lobs, they got floaters and they got threes,” Rivers said. “We can’t give them everything, Trae especially. … We have to take at least one of those away.”

More on Sixers-Hawks 

As Embiid plays through pain, Sixers' title hopes rest on his right knee 

Simmons and Rivers not happy with how Young was officiated in Game 1 

3 observations after Sixers' furious rally falls short in Game 1 loss 

Reasons for optimism after Sixers' Game 1 loss to Atlanta