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Hawks topple 76ers in Game 7 to advance to Eastern Conference Finals

2021 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Following a home loss in Game 6 on Friday evening, the Atlanta Hawks faced elimination for the first time in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. The price for falling short at State Farm Arena was a trip to the Wells Fargo Center to face the Philadelphia 76ers in Sunday’s Game 7, with most installing the top-seeded Sixers as the favorite in their home building. However, the Hawks put together a 48-minute effort, with tremendous individual efforts and quality team defense leading to a 103-96 win and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Atlanta started the game on a positive note, scoring seven points on the first three possessions and taking a five-point advantage.

Part of that early success stemmed from the play of Kevin Huerter, who made his first four shots and scored nine points in the first seven minutes. Atlanta did trail by a 28-25 margin, however, as several offensive pieces — headlined by Trae Young — sputtered in the opening quarter.

The Hawks erased that small deficit immediately in the second quarter. Atlanta scored the first eight points and benefitted from sloppy play by Philadelphia. Danilo Gallinari capped the run with back-to-back three-pointers.

Despite the subplot of bizarre officiating, the Hawks managed to hold the line for the remainder of the half. Huerter and John Collins carried a significant load on the offensive end, and the Hawks held the 76ers to less than a point per possession before halftime.

The first half was bizarre in a number of ways, including a 1-of-12 shooting performance from Young. Philadelphia had their own struggles — including ten turnovers before halftime — and that left the door open for the Hawks to lead 48-46 despite shooting just 39 percent from the floor.

After the break, the Sixers scored the first five points, but the Hawks quickly recovered. Huerter converted a three-point play to tie, and Young then got into a groove as a passer, finding Clint Capela on three separate occasions for dunks.

Following a Flagrant-1 foul assessed to former Hawks center Dwight Howard for contact to the head of Collins, Gallinari kickstarted what would become a 12-4 run for the Hawks. Gallinari converted an old-man effort off the glass then, moments later, he put George Hill into the blender for a veteran-laden jumper.

Atlanta led by five points as the fourth quarter arrived, even as Young was shooting just 2-of-16 from the floor. Turnovers were a significant reason for the visiting team’s success, as the Sixers committed 14 giveaways in the first three quarters to only seven for the Hawks. Still, there was more game to play, and the Sixers threw the first haymaker in the fourth quarter.

With Young on the bench for his final rest, Embiid scored the first five points, prompting a timeout, and the Sixers extended that to a 9-1 run to take a four-point advantage. However, things could’ve been worse for Atlanta, as Tobias Harris missed two layups during that run, and the fortunes were about to swing.

First, Matisse Thybulle missed a wide-open three that would’ve given Philadelphia a seven-point lead, and Gallinari immediately knocked down a triple to slash the margin to one. From there, Young finally found his jumper after a night of struggles, and it came at an opportune time.

Not only did Young convert a mid-ranger to keep the Hawks engaged, he made a floater to give Atlanta the lead with about five minutes remaining. Then, after a wild sequence that featured Ben Simmons passing on a wide-open dunk, Young buried a deep three-pointer to give the Hawks a six-point lead with 2:30 on the clock.

The game wasn’t over, though, as the Sixers made a comeback effort, cutting their deficit to one point. On cue, Huerter was fouled on a three-point attempt, and he made all three free throws to give the Hawks a four-point edge with 54 seconds left. Then, the dagger arrived, as Embiid turned it over and Gallinari clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals with a runaway dunk.

After a game in which their defense kept them involved in what ultimately became a Game 6 loss, Atlanta’s defense once again shined in Game 7. The Sixers scored less than a point per possession, and the Hawks did an improved job on Seth Curry while limiting the rest of the non-Embiid Sixers.

Offensively, it was a night to remember for Huerter. Huerter led the Hawks with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting, repeatedly making big plays and picking up the slack on a night when his wing partner, Bogdan Bogdanovic, was visibly limited by a knee injury. Young struggled to 5-of-23 shooting, but he generated nine points at the free throw line and dished out 10 assists while making life easier on his teammates. Elsewhere, Collins was a two-way force with 14 points and 16 rebounds, and it was a complete team effort.

While there will be a few days for reflection after a monumental win, the Hawks will begin the Eastern Conference Finals with a trip to face the Milwaukee Bucks beginning on Wednesday evening.

Stay tuned.