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Hawks drop Game 6 to 76ers after lackluster start to second half

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There will be a Game 7.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After a historic comeback in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves just one victory from the Eastern Conference Finals. To their benefit was a rabid sellout crowd in State Farm Arena rooting on the home team. Their young star would shine, but ultimately the supporting cast couldn’t lift the required weight, and Philadelphia was able to grind out a 104-99 victory to send the series to a Game 7.

The good in this game starts and ends with Trae Young’s stellar play throughout the night. Young ended with 34 points on 13-for-30 shooting, including 5-for-10 (50%) from three, and added 12 assists and 5 rebounds. When the team needed a bucket, he was seemingly always there to provide the score or the pass leading to the score.

History was also made in just Young’s 11th career postseason game by putting together a notable streak.

He began the game with a number of forays into the lane, ending in either a floater or a lob to Clint Capela like in this clip below.

Unlike the previous four contests, the Hawks got out to a quick and decisive lead. A 20-8 start meant the home team was in control early, including hitting seven of their first eight shots, and Trae Young was clearly a big reason why.

Young had 17 of the Hawks’ first 37 points, and he was responsible for 35 of the Hawks’ first 51 points once combining his scoring with the points accrued directly from his assists.

Another clear bright spot was the defensive anchor of this Hawks’ team, Capela. The center played menacing defense, challenging at the rim and ranging out on smaller guys when asked. Capela led a heroic effort — even in a loss — at defending without fouling. To wit, Atlanta accomplished this in giving up only three foul shots in the first three quarters.

But the rookie Tyrese Maxey provided a huge lift to the 76ers in keeping Philadelphia in the game first half. His energy on the defensive end, in tandem with the disruptive timing of Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, clearly made it tough for the Hawks role player to get going and led to some transition buckets going the other way.

However, the game would turn in a huge way in the third quarter. The Sixers came out of the half with four triples and a 12-0 run to take the lead. 59-51, with three of the long bombs courtesy of Seth Curry.

Watch Curry completely lose Kevin Huerter on this backdoor off ball movement.

“With Seth, we [have] got to get closer,” interim head coach Nate McMillan would lament after the game. “Our bigs [have] got to be up. When we have the blitz called on to put two on the ball, we [have] got to be connected on that. We just have to run with him. He’s doing a good job running off of screens.”

Curry would continue find soft spots in the Atlanta transition defense and inflict punishment, like below.

Make no mistake, Curry also demonstrated he could put the ball on the floor and create from inside the arc.

“Seth got going,” Young had to say about the Sixers coming out of the half. “They made an emphasis to get him the ball.“

The Hawks, meanwhile, countered with five straight misses after the break and would never lead for the rest of the contest.

“First half we were up and down,” said Huerter, contrasting the two halves. “Our pace was really good. We got a lot of lobs at the rim. We were getting kick out threes. It really felt like we were getting anything we wanted on the offensive end. Just didn’t have the same rhythm in the second half. A lot of that comes when you’re taking the ball out of the net.”

“We got on our heels. It felt like the start of the last three games,” coach McMillan had to say regarding the turn of events out of halftime. “They came out aggressive defensively. Offensively we never got that rhythm to start the second half.”

The most unfortunate takeaway for Atlanta this game, especially in the second half, was the lack of contribution from normally reliable secondary options. Another factor was the Hawks’ performace at the free throw line. They shot just 13-of-24 from the charity stripe for the game, and started the fourth quarter with four straight misses from the foul line, two by Onyeka Okongwu and two by Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Bogdanovic left the game early with knee soreness, but not before a disappointing seven-point, 3-for-11 (27%) night shooting. After helping lead a captivating rally two nights ago, Lou Williams finished 0-for-5 with three fouls and two bad turnovers in just 11 minutes. John Collins struggled to put up shots in close space and ended with just seven points on eight field goal attempts.

Even Huerter, who was far and away the second best perimeter player tonight, was just 1-for-7 (14.3%) in the second half after going 6-for-8 (75%) in the first half.

“I thought the pressure from Philadelphia bothered us at times.” McMillan said regarding the bench performance. “We couldn’t get a good look. They turned it up on us defensively. Lou had a big night for us last game but didn’t see the ball go through the basket.”

The final hope for Atlanta was a wild sequence that ended in a Young sidestep heave for three right at two minutes left to go. Maxey can’t possibly play better defense than this, and yet the Hawks would find a way pull to within one point late in the contest.

“The arena was euphoria,” Huerter had to say after that big shot. “Shot clock going down. Didn’t have much. And he created something out of nothing and makes a big shot.”

The lights in State Farm Arena even out shortly after that, but so did the glimmer of hope of a completed comeback for the third game in a row.

Joel Embiid had a less than superb outing, at least when compared to the rest of his dominance this series, logging 24 points on 9-for-20 (45%) shooting and 13 rebounds. The Hawks held him in check for most of the night, but this bucket after an uncontested offensive rebound to push the lead to three was crucial.

“Right then we knew we needed a stop and the ball was probably going to Embiid in the low post,” Huerter said about his expectation of how the game would proceed after Trae’s shot. “Force him into a tough shot and get the rebound and go back on the offensive end. Didn’t exactly work out that way.”

Young had an unfortunate turnover with under a minute to go, and, put together with a late Huerter missed three that would have brought the game back to a one point margin, the Hawks had ran out of chances. With Atlanta fouling at every opportunity to extend the game, Philadelphia composed themselves at the free throw line and salted the game away by hitting their last seven tries.

This game proved to be the closest wire-to-wire contest of the six so far in this series, with neither team requiring a mad comeback from double digits down to keep the game exciting. Despite the result on Friday night, the Hawks have to be encouraged knowing they had chances to end the series here and that they have already taken two games in Philadelphia this series.

All eyes turn to the health and performance of the role players in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday evening for the right for the Hawks to head to the second Eastern Conference Finals in Atlanta history.