The Philadelphia 76ers fought hard to earn home-court advantage throughout the 2021 NBA Playoffs. When they finally did by reaching the top seed, they were fortunate to face the Washington Wizards, who barely cracked a spot in the playoffs through the play-in tournament in the first round.
After downing the Wizards in five games for the gentleman's sweep, the Sixers advanced to round two to face the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. In the first round, the Hawks were the underdogs, not by a large margin. However, they didn't have any issues taking the New York Knicks out of the playoffs.
Riding high off that momentum, the Hawks upset the Sixers in South Philly for Game 1 of the second round. Although the Sixers didn't let Atlanta punch them in the mouth after that first game, it was a hard-fought series between two teams that required a Game 7. Many expected Joel Embiid and the Sixers to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals finally, but they came up short.
Regular season wins won't ever equal revenge against a postseason series loss, but the Sixers still wanted to make sure they could beat the Hawks whenever they could during the 2021-2022 season. Back in October, the Sixers battled against the Hawks for the first time this season. As they were off to a hot start to the year, the Sixers had no issue taking Atlanta down 122-94.
Then, the two teams met again on Friday night, with the circumstances slightly different. Atlanta's been on a hot streak lately as they've won eight of their last ten games heading into the matchup against Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Sixers are trying to find their rhythm again as they've been shorthanded for the last month.
The 76ers were shorthanded once again on Friday night as Tobias Harris came down with an illness on the morning of the matchup. In addition, Ben Simmons remains off the floor due to personal reasons. Therefore, the shorthanded Sixers had a tough matchup on the road against a red-hot Hawks.
But it didn't matter who had more of an advantage in the end. Although the Sixers had a rough second quarter, which put them in a hole before the final quarter of the night, Joel Embiid put the Sixers' offense on his back while the rest of the team's defense clamped down and held Atlanta to under ten points in the final 12 minutes.
After the game, Embiid addressed the media following his impressive 28-point outing. When discussing his dominance on Friday night, Embiid admitted he had some bulletin board material driving him to finish the game strongly and take the Hawks out.
"I'm still pissed off about what happened last year," Embiid said after the game. "It means a lot to me [to win this game]. In our situation, we got about $400 million worth of contracts not playing. So, any time you can get a win undermanned, missing two or three key players for this team, it's great. It's great confidence for our guys."
The Sixers still have a lot to work on moving forward, but Friday night's win should do a lot for their confidence as they've hit a snag lately. With that victory, the Sixers avoid falling into having a losing record and head into their two-day break with a much-needed win over a team that took them down in the postseason last year.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.