76ers handle Hawks, reach .500 after third straight win
PHILADELPHIA — It was a small milestone for the Philadelphia 76ers, but a milestone nonetheless.
The Sixers beat the Atlanta Hawks 119-109 on Wednesday night to even their record at 4-4, the first time they have been at .500 since they were also 4-4 on Nov. 11, 2013.
“We’re not focused on getting to .500 right now,” said forward Robert Covington, who led Philadelphia with 22 points. “We’re looking at building off what we’ve been doing.”
The Sixers went 75-253 in the previous four seasons while accumulating lofty draft picks, and it now looks like that strategy is beginning to pay off.
Joel Embiid, the third overall pick in 2014, continues to improve after showing promise in 31 games as a rookie last season. Ben Simmons has emerged as a Rookie of the Year contender this season.
Embiid had 21 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high six assists Wednesday, and Simmons finished with 19 points, 13 boards and nine assists for Philadelphia.
The 76ers won their third straight game and for the first time in three games at home.
The Sixers, who last had a three-game winning streak Feb. 9-13, outscored the Hawks 26-16 in the fourth quarter, limiting the Hawks to 25 percent shooting from the field (5 of 20).
Atlanta, which fell to an Eastern Conference-worst 1-7 with its seventh straight loss, didn’t have a point in the first 5:21 of the quarter and didn’t make its first field goal until 5:38 remained in the game.
“I think it was a perfect storm for us,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said, “where we were good on offense, execution-wise, and we were good on defense.”
Covington agreed that those two things went hand in hand.
“The way we guarded allowed us to get out and really run,” he said. “Not too many people can keep up with us when we do that.”
Dennis Schroder scored 25 points to lead Atlanta, and Taurean Prince added 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The Hawks, however, missed their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter. Their first point of the quarter came on Kent Bazemore’s free throw with 6:39 left, their first field goal on Mike Muscala’s layup with 5:38 remaining.
“We’ve got to give them credit,” Schroder said. “They came out with energy in the fourth quarter. ... They just picked up their energy a little bit. I think we kind of backed up. You can’t be like that.”
The Sixers made their first six 3-point attempts, five as they opened leads of 25-8 and 27-10 early in the game.
Atlanta then began attacking the basket with success, outscoring Philadelphia 32-16 on points in the paint in the half, including 20-10 in the second quarter.
Schroder was the main culprit. He scored 10 points as the Hawks sliced the deficit to 59-57 at the half, and his three-point play with 9:39 left in the third quarter gave Atlanta its first lead at 64-63.
Moments later, the Hawks reeled off nine straight points, four of those by Prince, to go up 73-66.
Philadelphia, sparked by its bench, rallied to forge a 93-93 tie by the end of the quarter. Simmons scored eight points in the late flurry and backup guard T.J. McConnell knotted it on a layup with 1.5 seconds left.
NOTES: Three Philadelphia reserves cracked double figures: Jerryd Bayless (14), Amir Johnson (12) and T.J. McConnell (12). ... Luke Babbitt scored 16 points off the Atlanta bench. ... Earlier in the day, Sixers C Jahlil Okafor told reporters that he would welcome a trade or buyout after the team declined Tuesday to pick up his fourth-year option. “The frustration that Jahlil has, I get,” coach Brett Brown said. “I understand that. I don’t begrudge him at all. ... He’s a good person, he is a talent, and I’m going to continue to coach him until somebody tells me I’m not.” ... Philadelphia continues to be without G Markelle Fultz, the top overall pick in this year’s draft. He missed his fourth straight game with a shoulder injury, and the team announced Sunday he would be out indefinitely. ... The Hawks were again without F Ersan Ilyasova (knee), F DeAndre’ Bembry (broken wrist) and C Miles Plumlee (strained quadriceps).