Hawks ‘handle pressure’ on road, winning three games in Philadelphia

Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan helps rally his team to a 103-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan helps rally his team to a 103-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers 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@

When Trae Young first touched the ball in Game 7 Sunday night in Philadelphia, the boos rang in from all corners of the Wells Fargo Center.

Young, 22, became the villain for the top-seeded Sixers and owned the role that he’d been rehearsing for since Game 1 of the first round against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.

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Like they had all playoffs in New York and Philly, chants made to intimidate Young and the Hawks echoed across the arena.

Rather than wallow under the hostility, the visitors played one of their most complete games in the series and defeated the 76ers to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

“We went to two of the toughest places and it was a great environment,” Young said. “Loved everything about it, it’s been great. We got two victories and I’m happy about that.”

The Hawks actually stole three games in Philadelphia, often regarded as one of the most difficult places for visiting teams to win. They also went 2-1 in New York in Round 1.

“I feel like it’s only right that we win both the games in those hostile environments and prove that we can handle the pressure on the big stage that we’ve been asking for,” John Collins said. “We want to continue to keep doing that.”

Though many of the players were playing in their first Game 7, there weren’t many signs that the Hawks were threatened.

Interim head coach Nate McMillan credited his team’s composure to sticking to his three C’s — calm, clear and connected.

“We couldn’t allow (Philadelphia) to get out to have a big quarter in the first quarter and the third quarter,” McMillan said. “Those are two quarters we wanted to make sure we didn’t allow the crowd to get in the game. We had to make sure we were clear about what we needed to do on both ends of the floor.”

Unlike the previous three Philadelphia wins, there was no Sixer run for the fans to get behind and their largest lead of the night was four.

Each time Joel Embiid would slam home a dunk or Seth Curry delivered a made 3-pointer, Kevin Huerter, Clint Capela or Danilo Gallinari had an answer. Huerter silenced the crowd by himself multiple times throughout the night as he led the team with 27 points for a playoff-high.

“Coming into this game, we had already won twice in this building,” Huerter said. “Obviously they won twice in our building, but this crowd didn’t faze us, just like the crowd in New York. We just tried to lock in.”

Hawks guard Kevin Huerter hits a three-pointer against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks guard Kevin Huerter hits a three-pointer against the Philadelphia 76ers 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@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

In the four games played in Philadelphia, Huerter averaged 15.5 points including 27 points Sunday and 20 points in a Game 2 loss.

“Personally, going back to college, playing on the road is more fun,” Huerter said. “You have your group of 20 people and it’s so tight knit. Every huddle it feels like those people are the only ones that want you to win. In a lot of ways it pulls you closer. When you’re at home, everyone’s rooting for you. On the road, you really have to lock in, come together and we seemed to do that at the right time.”

Prior to the series with the Hawks, Philadelphia had suffered just seven losses in Wells Fargo Center and just once did they lose back-to-back home games.

The Sixers lost more games in Philly this series (3) than they lost in their two rounds of the 2019 playoffs (2).

McMillan said the way his team was playing had a serious impact in neutralizing the Sixers’ home court advantage.

“The energy in the building, because we were doing a great job of executing, really didn’t have an impact on us tonight,” McMillan said. “To finish a series again on the opponent’s home court just shows the growth of this group of men.”