ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks headed home beaming with confidence in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers despite their inability to slow down, much less stop, Joel Embiid.
The 7-foot, 280-pound Embiid scored a combined 79 points in back-to-back home games for the Sixers to open the best-of-seven series, which is tied 1-1. Game 3 is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at State Farm Arena, where the Hawks have won 13 consecutive games, including two in their 4-1 first-round series win against the New York Knicks.
It's the longest active home winning streak in the NBA.
"I hope fans are ready to rock the house on Friday," Atlanta point guard Trae Young said Tuesday night after Philadelphia's 118-102 win in Game 2.
The Hawks, who won Sunday's season opener 128-124, will need their fans. They also know they have to fix some problems on the court.
They expect better outside shooting from Young and backcourt partner Bogdan Bogdanovic, and until they find a defensive combination to slow Embiid, Atlanta will have to do a better job of containing his teammates. The challenge of combating top-seeded Philadelphia's outside shooting grew Wednesday when the fifth-seeded Hawks announced De'Andre Hunter will miss the remainder of the postseason.
Hunter, the team's top perimeter defender, is scheduled for surgery on his right knee in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The 23-year-old small forward was held out the first two games due to soreness in the knee, and after he had swelling, the Hawks said tests found a new small tear of his lateral meniscus. Hunter averaged 15 points in his second NBA season but was limited by the knee injury to only 23 games.
After finishing second to Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic in league MVP award voting announced before Game 2, Embiid had 40 points and 13 rebounds. So far in this series, he has simply overpowered Atlanta center Clint Capela (6-10, 240), but Embiid recognizes the challenge that awaits him and his teammates in Atlanta.
"The series is only 1-1," Embiid said. "There's nothing to really be happy about. We have to go over there and try to win both and take one of them at a time."
Embiid is playing with a cartilage tear in his right knee.
"I'm trying to do the best I can, limited movement and all," Embiid said.
If Embiid has been limited, it hasn't been obvious. He was active Tuesday night, even extending his defensive presence to help disturb Young's outside shooting.
"Obviously he's very skilled," Capela said. "He's one of the best at his position. Just try to make it as hard as you can for him."
Embiid can't do it alone, though. Atlanta proved that Sunday afternoon, showing that even a dominant performance by Embiid — he had 39 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal — isn't enough to stop one of the NBA's hottest teams.
With Young and Bogdanovic combining to shoot 3-for-13 from 3-point range in Game 2, Philadelphia's Shake Milton made four 3s while playing only 14 minutes off the bench. Milton made a difference, but Embiid also had more help in the Sixers' balanced attack. Tobias Harris scored 22 points, including 16 in the first quarter, and Seth Curry had 21 while making five 3s.
The loss of Hunter only adds urgency to the challenge of making it tougher for Embiid to score.
"He's a problem down in the post," Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. "We're trying to mix up our defense with him. At times he's getting too deep. Our double teams are not getting there quick enough. He pretty much has had his way in the first two games down on the block."
The Hawks expect there to be lot of energy Friday night. Their most recent home loss was on April 15 against the Milwaukee Bucks, and their success in Atlanta has contributed to the turnaround that helped them surge into the postseason.
Despite Atlanta's recent dominance at State Farm Arena, the 76ers are favored by 1 1/2 points in Game 3, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Atlanta, of course, hopes to beat the odds and continue to exceed playoff expectations.