‘No quit in this team:’ underdog Hawks knock off No. 1 seed Philly

Hawks forward John Collins grabs the offensive rebound against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and forward Tobias Harris, drawing a foul during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks forward John Collins grabs the offensive rebound against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and forward Tobias Harris, drawing a foul during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

With poise down the stretch and an excellent performance by wing Kevin Huerter, the No. 5 seed Hawks defeated the No. 1 seed 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, 103-96, Sunday in Philadelphia.

ExploreMark Bradley: Hawks ‘were built for this moment’

Philly’s season comes to a close. The Hawks will move on to face the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, which will begin Wednesday in Milwaukee.

Below are some takeaways from the decisive Game 7 win:

1. Having knocked off the No. 1 seed 76ers on their home court, a magnificent Hawks playoff run will continue, as they put their 14-20 start to the season (and 20-47 record last year) further and further in the rearview. They’ve excelled since interim coach Nate McMillan took over March 1 and the Hawks are now 35-15 since that date, edging Philly for the best record in the East over that stretch. For the second time in a row, the Hawks closed out a series on the road to advance, having defeated the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 of the first round.

“There’s no quit in this team,” McMillan said. “They continue to work together. They continue to believe. I can’t believe how calm I was throughout this game and I think it just came from the fact that I knew these guys were going to give me everything that they had. They did. To finish a series again on the opponent’s home court, it just shows the growth of this group of men.”

Caption
Hawks guard Kevin Huerter draws a foul from Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle on a three-point attempt with 54 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. Huerter made all three free throws, contributing to Atlanta's 103-96 win to advance to the conference finals. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Hawks guard Kevin Huerter draws a foul from Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle on a three-point attempt with 54 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. Huerter made all three free throws, contributing to Atlanta's 103-96 win to advance to the conference finals. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks guard Kevin Huerter draws a foul from Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle on a three-point attempt with 54 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. Huerter made all three free throws, contributing to Atlanta's 103-96 win to advance to the conference finals. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

2. Wing Kevin Huerter played one of the best games of his career on the biggest stage the Hawks have played in years. He led Atlanta in scoring with 27 points (10-18 FG, 2-4 from 3, 5-7 FT), adding seven rebounds and three assists, finishing as a plus-eight. Huerter made smart plays, fouling Ben Simmons (who struggles from the line) to save a breakaway with the Hawks up by four with about two minutes left. He hit three free throws to take a 96-92 lead with 54 seconds to play.

ExploreMichael Cunningham: Kevin Huerter saves the Hawks

3. Trae Young has excelled in his first playoffs and didn’t get enough help from the Hawks’ supporting cast in Game 6, which is largely why the 76ers were able to force Game 7. On Sunday, Young struggled mightily with his shot, and it was largely the supporting cast who kept Atlanta in it. In addition to Huerter, John Collins added 14 points and 16 rebounds, Clint Capela had 13 points and six rebounds, Danilo Gallinari had 17 points and Lou Williams had six points and three steals.

Young said after the game that his shoulder — to which he took a hit earlier in the series and had been covered in athletic tape since — was giving out during the game. He tried to keep teammates involved instead, pushing through to finish with 21 points (5-23 FG, 2-11 from 3-point range, 9-11 FT), 10 assists and six turnovers, with 10 points in the fourth quarter.

“Our guys have been struggling trying to put the ball in the basket,” McMillan said. “We said that eventually it’s got to open up for us, those shots are going to start to fall. … Kevin came out tonight, was very aggressive. We pretty much just fed the hot hand.”

4. Although the Hawks entered the fourth quarter with a five-point lead, they struggled to make shots and didn’t record their first field goal in that period until the 7:10 mark, courtesy of a Gallinari 3-pointer. Philly briefly took the lead, but timely baskets finally started to fall for the Hawks (including from Huerter, who hit a turnaround shot to reclaim the lead, 88-86, with 3:48 to play). A young group with several key players making their first playoff appearances (Huerter, Young, Collins) showed poise and edged the 76ers by two points in the final period, going 9-11 from the line in the final period to seal the win.

Explore76ers give Hawks credit

“Really, really well,” Capela, a veteran who has faced Game 7s before, said on how his younger teammates handled the pressure. “I was just trying to make sure that we were really focused on the details, because in those fourth quarters, especially in Game 7, we’ve got to pay attention to the details to what we want to do on defense, how we want to take the ball out, little stuff like that. Don’t want to get too excited, also, to not lose focus. And we did it perfectly.

“We really did a great job until the end of the game. … Those young guys, they just go out there and play.”

Caption
Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari dunks ahead of Philadelphia 76ers guard Shake Milton on a breakaway after forcing a turnover to give Atlanta a 98-92 lead with 41 seconds remaining 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@

Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari dunks ahead of Philadelphia 76ers guard Shake Milton on a breakaway after forcing a turnover to give Atlanta a 98-92 lead with 41 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari dunks ahead of Philadelphia 76ers guard Shake Milton on a breakaway after forcing a turnover to give Atlanta a 98-92 lead with 41 seconds remaining 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@

5. This wasn’t a beautiful game, with the Hawks again having a rough shooting night. They went 25.9% from 3-point range and haven’t hit their season average from beyond the arc (37.3%) since Game 1. That being said, they were able to grind out this series and take down the No. 1 seed without shooting all that well, so enough went right in other areas, including late surges, the ability to make comebacks and buckle down in the fourth quarter — a main strength of the team under McMillan.

Stat of the game

17 (the number of turnovers Philly committed, with Atlanta scoring 15 points off those, compared to the Hawks’ 10 turnovers)

Star of the game

Huerter (made smart decisions and finished with a team-high 27 points)

Quotable

“We’re happy we made it to the Eastern Conference finals, but we’re not satisfied.” (Young on the emotions he experienced after the win)

Hawks-76ers series

Game 1 - Hawks 128, 76ers 124

Game 2 - 76ers 118, Hawks 102

Game 3 - 76ers 127, Hawks 111

Game 4 - Hawks 103, 76ers 100

Game 5 - Hawks 109, 76ers 106

Game 6 - 76ers 104, Hawks 99

Game 7 Hawks 103, 76ers 96

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks