For a change of pace Friday night, the Hawks opted to break out their shovels and dig their hole a little later than usual. It was a big break with their pattern through this Eastern Conference semifinal with Philadelphia. They were more geared to start slowly, fall behind and then surge at the end. And that had been a successful formula, staking them to a 3-2 series lead.
You should never mess with what works, as Friday reinforced.
For in Game 6, the Hawks saved their sag for later - the start of the second half. And this time, unable to recover their offensive dynamism of the first quarter, lost to Philly 104-99. So, now, a deciding Game 7 in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
For the first time since Game 1 of the series, the Hawks had the halftime lead Friday. They had begun the game on point, making seven of their first nine shots. And they fed on that for the rest of the half, going in with a 51-47 lead.
They didn’t seem to know what to do with the slightest of early advantages.
For out stormed the 76ers to begin the third quarter, going on a 14-0 run to start the second half. The other Curry, Seth, channeled brother Steph, to score a quick 11. Joel Embiid, who dabbles at distance, chipped in another 3 to the run.
Big props from shooter to another. “Seth got going. They made it an emphasis to get him the ball, getting him going. They got off to the run, and he was a big piece of that,” the Hawks’ Trae Young said.
“We were trying to be the team that hit first and not dig ourselves into a hole like we did in games 2-3-4-5,” Hawks guard Kevin Huerter said. That mission was accomplished.
But: “They came out with those four 3′s in a row (at the start of the third quarter), they made a good run on us,” Huerter said. “It just didn’t seem like we had the same rhythm. The first half our pace were really good, we got a lot of lobs at the rim, a lot of kick-out 3′s, we felt like we were getting anything we wanted at the offensive end. Didn’t have the same rhythm in the second half.”
And when that happens, a coach almost always will point to execution.
“I don’t think we were tight,” said Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan, addressing the pressure of trying to close out this series at home and advance to the conference finaIs. “I thought we settled. I thought we were playing fast taking a lot of quick shots, a lot of no-pass-and-a-shot, one-pass-and-a-shot. We just started to settle, allowed them to get back into the game. We really kind of lost our rhythm.”
That lost rhythm was evident in Huerter’s game. He went for 15 in the first half, serving as the necessary compliment to Young. But had only two in the second half.
“I missed a couple shots the second half that I made the first half,” Huerter said. “Got some good looks, they just didn’t fall. Felt like a game again that we didn’t really shoot well as a team. Feels like we haven’t shot well really since Game 1. We got to get that rhythm back.”
And quickly, because a Game 7 provides no cushion.
76ers 104, Hawks 99 (box score)
So out of synch were the Hawks that they shot an abysmal 13-of-24 (54%) from the free-throw line. Scarcely a better percentage than Philly’s Ben Simmons, renowned head case at the line (2-of-4, 50%).
So off target were they that their best offensive moment was a Young borderline impossible, largely improvisational 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock that brought the Hawks to within a point with just less than two minutes to play.
But this time the sides of the second-half hole they had dug were just a little bit too steep and too slick to climb. It was the Sixers who nailed down the last two minutes this night.
Give Philly some credit, if you must. “I thought defensively they got after us,” McMillan said. “We kind of started (the second half) on our heels. It kind of felt like the start of the last three games. They came out aggressively defensively. Offensively never got into rhythm in that second half.”
There’s mention of that elusive rhythm again.
And not for the last time.
“As a team we got to stand back up, we got to fix our pace,” Huerter said, getting an early start on Sunday’s priorities. “We talk about our second half, just didn’t have a great rhythm for whatever reason.
“And we can’t let them go on a run like we did start of the third quarter.”
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