The Sixers’ trade deadline pickups got tossed into the fire Friday night.
A day after being dealt to the Sixers, Buddy Hield and Cameron Payne made their Sixers debuts. They played major roles in a 127-121 defeat to the Hawks at Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers' eighth loss in their last nine games.
Hield and Payne each posted 20 points and six assists.
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Kelly Oubre Jr. (28 points, 12 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (21 points, seven assists, six rebounds) were the Sixers' two top scorers.
Trae Young had 37 points and 12 assists for the Hawks, who moved to 23-29.
The Sixers’ Joel Embiid, De’Anthony Melton, Nicolas Batum and Robert Covington were all still sidelined with injuries and Tyrese Maxey missed Friday's game with an illness. Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray and Clint Capela were also out.
Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said pregame that he thinks there’s a “decent chance” both Melton (lumbar spine stress response) and Batum (left hamstring strain) will return before the All-Star break. The Sixers have three games until that point.
Melton worked out pregame on the Wells Fargo Center floor.
The 30-21 Sixers will hit the road and play the Wizards on Saturday night. Here are observations on their loss to Atlanta:
Tons of debut action for Hield and Payne
Thrown into the Sixers’ starting lineup right away, neither Hield nor Payne managed to provide an immediate jolt.
Both players saw their first jumper attempts go around the rim and out. Southpaw point guard Payne spotted Hield’s backdoor cut, but he threw the ball behind him and out of bounds. Atlanta jumped out to a 6-0 lead.
Hield got on the board by sinking a step-back three-pointer after some of his typical darting around off the ball and smart relocation once he passed it. Everyone in the NBA knows all about Hield’s catch-and-shoot prowess, but the fact that he’s dangerous even after he’s given up the ball should benefit the Sixers’ offense as well.
Payne scored his first Sixers hoop in unlikely fashion on a put-back layup.
Unfortunately for Hield and Payne, few of their jumpers were dropping in Friday’s first half. Both players started 3 for 10 from the field and the Sixers missed 13 of their first 17 three-point tries.
Hield made a couple of threes early in the third quarter and each of the Sixers’ deadline additions were more in sync with their new teammates. Hield assisted a pick-and-pop Mo Bamba three with a behind-the-back dish and set a cutting Oubre up for a slam. Payne looked to push the pace and played well in transition.
Hield and Payne certainly piled up plenty of game reps in their debuts. Hield's 39 minutes and Payne's 36 were both season highs. We'll see what the duo has in store for the second leg of the Sixers' back-to-back.
Real rotation time for Smith and Council
Rookie guard Terquavion Smith entered with 4:20 left in the first quarter, which was the easily the earliest he’d ever appeared in an NBA game.
As he’s done in any setting — college, the G League, NBA garbage time — Smith got up shots without hesitation. He tried three long-distance jumpers late in the first quarter and knocked one down. As expected, the 6-foot-4, 160-pound Smith did not shine defensively (outside of a sneaky backcourt steal in the second quarter). He finished the night with eight points on 3-for-7 shooting in 13 minutes.
Fellow rookie Council also flashed the strengths he's shown in garbage time, hitting a pull-up jumper and surging into the paint to draw two free throws.
KJ Martin and Mo Bamba were the two other bench players in Nurse’s rotation Friday. Two-way player Kenneth Lofton Jr. was the lone active Sixer not to play.
Sixers can't climb out of deep hole
Both the Sixers’ defense and their defensive rebounding were rough out of the gates.
Onyeka Okongwu scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the opening quarter. Atlanta had 10 second-chance points in the first nine minutes.
To his credit, Paul Reed was aggressive and effective on the offensive glass, posting 10 points and 10 boards in the first half. The Sixers couldn’t keep pace with Atlanta’s constant scoring, though. They forced no turnovers until the final play of the first quarter and Young largely had his way.
The Sixers’ shorthanded state clouds all these days — they’ll clearly be a better defensive team once Melton and Batum are back — but both Patrick Beverley and Jaden Springer are defenders who can help against star guards like Young. Beverley’s now a Buck and Springer’s a Celtic.
The Sixers’ defense was especially porous late in the second quarter as Atlanta went on a 11-2 run and extended its lead to 21 points. Young buried a wide-open three on the Hawks’ last second-period play and Atlanta had 73 points at intermission.
Oubre went on a scoring surge late in the third and early in the fourth quarter, driving hard and plowing through contact to earn free throws.
The Sixers kept Atlanta's offense quiet during that stretch, too. Bamba leaped high for his fourth block, Payne drilled a three, Harris drove in for a layup, and the Hawks' advantage was suddenly down to 109-102.
However, few undermanned teams can climb all the way out of holes over 20 points. Young delivered some timely shotmaking and, though Atlanta was shaky at times down the the stretch, the Hawks successfully held off the Sixers.