ATLANTA – The final score was a little lopsided and the game was sloppy at times, but after beating Philadelphia, 110-93, Saturday night, the Hawks said they see promise in the rising young Sixers.
The Sixers didn’t have the legs on the tail end of back-to-back games to keep up with another hot team, and Joel Embiid did not play, as Atlanta (26-18) won for the 11th time in 13 games to move within a half game of Boston for the No. 3 spot in the East.
Yet if not for the Sixers' 21 turnovers and a second quarter where Atlanta seemed to make every shot, the Sixers (15-27) looked enough like the team that had won eight of 10 games before arriving in Philips Arena that the Hawks see differences.
The biggest change in the Sixers between Saturday and the first two meetings of the season between these two teams — one played with Embiid and one without — is T.J. McConnell starting at point guard rather than Sergio Rodriguez.
McConnell had a game-high 11 assists against the Hawks in addition to his eight points, and the Sixers had 27 assists on a night where they hit 12 of 29 three-pointers.
“They have an identity,” said Atlanta forward Kent Bazemore, who scored 16. “McConnell is playing really well, putting pressure on the defense and their floor spacing is very good. Very disciplined group.
“Guys are in the right spots, if a guy drives, they have a plethora of options: a guy in the corner, a guy on the jumper, a guy on the wing. They kept us honest for a chunk of the game.”
Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points on 15 shots and Robert Covington added 15 points and 10 rebounds, but the Sixers were gassed in the second quarter, as the Hawks hit 16 of 23 shots in a 37-point period.
Atlanta stretched a 62-54 halftime lead to 18 points late in the third quarter, but the Sixers cut the deficit to 94-87 with 6:46 left in the game on a pair of free throws by rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
The Sixers whipped the Hawks, 20-11, in fast break points.
“They were getting some threes in transition,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who was on the Spurs' staff for years with Sixers head coach Brett Brown. “Right now, they’re pushing the pace.
“T.J. McConnell does a great job of getting outlets, getting up the court and finding shooters quickly and they’re letting it fly. Covington and Ilyasova and those guys are collapsing us early and shooting early threes.”
The Sixers had problems on the boards in Atlanta, where Dwight Howard grabbed 15 and Paul Millsap added 10 as the Hawks built a 48-38 rebounding edge. Those numbers were every bit as important as Millsap’s 21 points and the 13 added by Howard.
That disparity on the boards and the Sixers' collective loose handle did in the visitors. Atlanta scored 17 points off the Sixers’ 21 turnovers.
Embiid was scheduled to rest Saturday anyway. It’s unclear whether he’ll play Tuesday against the Clippers, who will be without guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin, or Wednesday at Milwaukee.
Embiid suffered a knee contusion in Friday night’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers and Brown said he’d be further evaluated Sunday.
Get him back in the mix, and The Sixers have a shot at starting another winning streak.
“We did a good shot of holding them to one shot,” Howard said after the Hawks outscored the Sixers, 14-0, in second-chance points. “They play really hard. They play aggressive. They play good team basketball. They share the ball and find the open man. They have a good group of young guys.
“It wasn’t as easy as people expect out of Philly teams. You have to respect them.”