76ers give Hawks credit; they had no choice

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid reacts in the final seconds of the 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid reacts in the final seconds of the 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The 76ers gave credit where credit was due.

They had no choice.

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It’s the Hawks, and not the top-seeded 76ers, who will play in the Eastern Conference finals. It’s the Hawks who won Game 7 of the semifinals, 103-96. It’s the Hawks who won the decisive game on the road. It’s the Hawks who won the series 4-3, with three wins coming in Philadelphia.

“They beat us seven games,” 76ers guard Seth Curry said. “They played better. They were the better team for seven games. It was a close series. We had big leads. They came back. We had opportunities to take advantage of. We can’t say we are the better team when they just beat us.”

In Philadelphia, there are many questions headed into the offseason much sooner than a championship-caliber team expected to exit. How bad was Joel Embiid hurt? Is Ben Simmons the point guard to carry a team when he can’t make free throws? What will be the impact of three straight playoff exits on the team’s psyche, including the latest to the fifth-seeded Hawks?

Hawks center Clint Capela dunks the ball over Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid during the third quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks center Clint Capela dunks the ball over Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid during the third quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“First of all, I gotta give Atlanta a lot of credit for what they did,” said Embiid, who played with a slight tear of the meniscus in his right knee. “Obviously, they beat us so got to give them a lot or credit. It sucks to come up short. There is a lot of stuff that happened. This was going to be our year. … There is a lot to regret.”

Perhaps most frustrating for the 76ers was they lost at home on a night when Hawks guard Trae Young shot 5 of 23 from the field, including 2 of 11 from 3-point range, and had six turnovers. Young finished with 21 points, well below his playoff and series average. The 76ers tried many different approaches to slow Young, settling on the much taller Simmons taking on much of the responsibility.

Still, 76ers coach Doc Rivers pointed to Young as the main reason the offseason is here.

“Trae was the major factor is this whole series,” Rivers said. “Joel was our guy. Trae was their guy. When you look at it, he had six turnovers tonight and was 5-for-23, but the fact that we had to give him so much attention allowed other guys to get off. He is definitely their guy. He’s having a heck of a run right now.”

The 76ers won’t go quietly when it comes to the officiating. Well, at least Embiid will not.

Embiid has been vocal about “getting hacked” much of the series, especially after the 76ers blew big leads in Games 4 and 5. He was fined $35,000 by the NBA before Game 7 for his role in an altercation with the Hawks’ John Collins in Game 6.

Following Game 7, Embiid voiced his displeasure, unprompted.

“There is a lot of stuff that went wrong whether it’s they can foul me all they want, whether it’s the whole officiating tonight,” Embiid said. “You got guys fouling, putting their hands up. Me going for a dunk and they don’t call anything. The last three games it’s been the same thing, over and over.

“Then I get fined the last game for putting my hands out while I’m being pushed in the freaking back. I get fined just because, I don’t know why. There is a lot of stuff that went wrong. As a team, we still had a good chance to win. We just made a lot of mistakes.”

Embiid may hear from the league again.

In addition to the 76ers’ 17 turnovers in Game 7, the biggest issue according to Rivers, the Hawks got 27 points from Kevin Huerter. With so much attention focused on Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic ailing with right knee soreness, it was Huerter who hurt the 76ers. Curry had trouble defending him much of the night.

“We tried (to help Curry on Huerter),” Rivers said. “We actually ran someone (at him) a couple of times. … Some of those shots Huerter made were really tough shots. He made a couple over Tobias (Harris). Made one over George (Hill). Give him credit. The kid struggled in Game 6 and was phenomenal tonight. Made big shots. He was really the deciding factor is this game, clearly.”