Following a comeback for the ages on Wednesday evening, the Atlanta Hawks entered Friday’s Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers with a clear opportunity. With a win, the Hawks would advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for just the second time since the franchise arrived from St. Louis. However, the home team fell just short in what became a 104-99 defeat, and the series will now shift back to Philadelphia for a win-or-go-home Game 7 matchup on Sunday evening.
In direct contrast to previous matchups, the Hawks came flying out of the gate. Atlanta scored on the first three possessions and, with some defense in the mix, the Hawks took a 10-2 lead.
Atlanta scored 16 points in the first nine possessions, with Trae Young helping the team find its offensive rhythm at the outset. The Hawks led 20-8 after fewer than six minutes, and Young himself was 3-of-3 from the field to spur the attack.
The Hawks did have an offensive hiccup midway through the opening quarter, going dry on four straight trips with three quick turnovers from Bogdan Bogdanovic. However, Young was the story, scoring 11 points and dishing out three assists in his opening stint to lead the Hawks to a 29-22 advantage.
The second quarter took on more of a back-and-forth nature, with Philadelphia opening with a 7-0 run to tie the game. That push came with Atlanta’s bench on the floor, however, and Young returned shortly thereafter, restoring order in leading a 10-0 run to give the Hawks a 39-29 lead.
Keeping with the back-and-forth theme, the Sixers scored the next seven points, but the Hawks did maintain the lead for the entire half. Kevin Huerter scored five straight points and, with Young connecting on a (very) deep three-pointer in the final moments, Atlanta took a four-point advantage into the locker room.
Young scored 20 points and dished out seven assists in the first half, and it was a dominant performance. He was flanked by Huerter, who scored 15 points in the opening half.
Other parts of Atlanta’s offense struggled, though, and it felt as though the Hawks let an opportunity to build a larger advantage slip away in the first 24 minutes. That feeling was even more strongly emphasized at the start of the third quarter when the Sixers landed a haymaker coming out of the locker room.
Philadelphia scored the first 14 points of the second half, taking a 61-51 lead, and that explosion was keyed by a trio of three-pointers from Seth Curry. In addition to defensive challenges, the Hawks struggled to score, missing their first six shots, and they were behind the eight-ball as a result.
Things began to shift toward Atlanta, at least to some degree, when John Collins produced the highlight of the night. Collins “baptized” Joel Embiid with a monster dunk, converting a three-point play in the process.
Collins’ dunk sparked a 13-4 overall run from the Hawks and, moments later, Atlanta cut the deficit to a single point. Much of that push was initiated by Young, though Gallinari scored seven important points to save the quarter from disaster potential. The Hawks trailed by just four points with 12 minutes remaining as a result, with tensions running high.
The early portion of the fourth quarter did not go well for Atlanta’s bench-heavy lineup, including a stretch in which the Hawks missed four straight free throws. In a moment of both future and current excitement, though, Onyeka Okongwu unleashed his immense defensive potential.
Atlanta struggled offensively for much of the fourth quarter, which led to a seven-point deficit with 4:03 remaining. That moment in time was also significant in that a skirmish occurred between Collins and Embiid. Embiid was called for an offensive foul and fireworks erupted, with both players assessed technical fouls.
During the lengthy review, the Hawks announced that starting wing Bogdan Bogdanovic would miss the rest of the evening with right knee soreness. Still, there was basketball to be played, and Atlanta nearly erased another double-digit second-half deficit.
With 1:59 remaining, Young connected on a ridiculous fading three-pointer, and that brought the Hawks to within a 94-93 margin.
Following Young’s triple, the lights (literally) went out at State Farm Arena but, once order was restored, the Hawks were never able to take the lead. Embiid generated a putback basket to put the Sixers up by a three-point margin and, a few possessions later, Huerter was unable to convert on a pretty good look from beyond the arc that would have slashed the deficit to one. Ultimately, the Sixers made enough free throws in the final moments to secure victory.
All in all, it was another brilliant night from Young with 34 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. Huerter (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Gallinari (16 points) also performed admirably, but it was a night to forget for players like Bogdanovic, Lou Williams and even John Collins.
The Hawks failed to score a point per possession in the game, shooting 41 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three-point range. While those shooting numbers are not fully disastrous, Atlanta also shot just 13-of-24 from the line and lost the rebounding battle, swinging the math against them.
From there, the two teams will meet in Game 7 on Sunday evening at Wells Fargo Center. The prize in that do-or-die scenario is a matchup against either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the losing team beginning their offseason earlier than desired.