Perhaps, the Philadelphia 76ers put too much energy into their pregame ceremony on Sunday before opening up the second round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. As Atlanta's starting five geared up for tip-off, Sixers players surrounded Joel Embiid and WWE legend Triple H as they put on a mini-show of their own before the big playoff matchup in South Philly.
The unexpected pregame presentation offered a lot of energy from Sixers fans in the crowd and created a hostile environment for the visiting team. However, the Hawks weren't fazed by it. In the first 12 minutes of action, Atlanta fired off 42 points, holding the Sixers to just 27. Then, in the second quarter, Atlanta collected another 32 points, keeping Philly under 30 once again.
The loud cheers for the home team turned into obnoxious boos by halftime as the Sixers trailed 20 points through two quarters. The 76ers had a lot of work to do to avoid a blowout loss, and they came into the second half looking like a much different team than everybody witnessed in the first 24 minutes of action.
By outscoring the Hawks 29-25 in the third quarter, the Sixers lowered the scoring deficit to 16 points. Remaining comfortable with their lead, the Hawks started looking for ways to kill time off the clock to avoid a breakdown.
But the Sixers' defensive aggression pressured Atlanta into turning the ball over eight times in the second half. Although the Hawks led by as much as 25 points in the second half, the Sixers nearly made a comeback as they climbed within one possession at a point late during the game.
Ultimately, the Hawks won Game 1 in Philly as they defeated the Sixers 128-124. However, Atlanta's big win almost turned into a complete collapse. Therefore, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan believes his team was fortunate enough to escape the first outing of the second round with a victory.
"We didn’t execute at all," McMillan said after reviewing the film from Game 1. "I thought we were really sloppy the last quarter of [Sunday] night’s game. We know we have to be much better, get organized, and execute against that pressure. We were fortunate enough to win that game after having control of that game."
Visiting teams don't steal wins at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly too often, so the Hawks knew they had a rare opportunity on their hands this past Sunday afternoon. Although they almost choked a major lead away, the Hawks are happy with the final results, rightfully so.
While McMillan and his roster understand it's just one game, and the 76ers' counterpunch will be a tough one, Atlanta remains confident they can continue to win big games in the playoffs -- especially on the road -- but they can no longer take big starts for granted as they barely held onto their significant Game 1 lead.