Coming into the 2020-2021 NBA season, many questioned the Philadelphia 76ers' core players. With question marks surrounding Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' fit together, and the concerns regarding Tobias Harris' ability to live up to his contract, nobody thought the Sixers had what it takes to become a championship-caliber team.
Through a 72-game regular season, a lot of those questions were answered. Simmons and Embiid never looked better playing alongside each other. Tobias Harris was considered an All-Star snub as he had arguably the best season of his career.
Thanks to Philly's established "big three," the Sixers managed to lock in the first seed in the Eastern Conference and earn home-court advantage throughout the rest of the playoffs. But as Sixers head coach Doc Rivers stated many times since the regular season ended, the 76ers haven't accomplished anything yet.
With the first round of the playoffs in the rearview, the Sixers are looking to take on the Atlanta Hawks, with the second round beginning on Sunday. As Philly's big three is what many believe the Hawks will focus on, Atlanta head coach Nate McMillan made it clear that this year's Sixers team isn't in the position they're in solely because of the Embiid, Simmons, and Harris trio.
"It’s not just Embiid, it’s not Simmons, it’s not just Harris," McMillan said on Saturday. "They have a real solid team. Curry is playing really solid for them. They’re the number one team in the East, so it’s not one guy. One guy doesn’t make that happen. We’re preparing for Philadelphia, not just one particular player or a couple of guys. This is a really good team."
While some have mentioned that the Sixers won't be able to survive the second round without Embiid on the floor, McMillan isn't buying that narrative that Philly takes that much of a hit. While the 76ers are clearly much better off with Embiid in the lineup, Atlanta's head coach understands the challenge doesn't get easier if he doesn't play.
"What I see with this team is a very, very good defense that’s physical," he explained. "Offensively, they have size where they can attack you in the paint with post-ups. They have perimeter shooting that can burn you from the three-point line. When you get to this point, the team is going to be solid inside and out. First and second units are going to be good. You’re going to have to play solid basketball.”
The Sixers and the Hawks will tip off Game 1 of the second round at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly on Sunday afternoon.