Sunday's NBA playoffs: Hawks head to East finals after Game 7 win in Philadelphia
Phoenix — Trae Young and the Hawks are taking their stunning turnaround to the Eastern Conference finals.
Young made a late 3-pointer and scored 21 points to help Atlanta win for the third time in the series in Philadelphia, a 103-96 victory over the top-seeded 76ers on Sunday night in Game 7.
The Hawks will open their first East finals since 2015 against the Bucks on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
“This team is special, man,” Kevin Huerter said. "Everybody has counted us out all year. For us to make it this far and win in this building in Game 7, it’s huge for us.”
Atlanta had been 0-9 in Games 7s on the road.
But the Hawks ignored their ignominious history and got one in Philly, where they already won in Game 1 and Game 5 and knocked out Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and closed the book on the Process.
Not so deep down, not even the Hawks could have seen this coming, especially in March when they were 14-20, 11th in the Eastern Conference and fired coach Lloyd Pierce.
Under coach Nate McMillan, the Hawks turned into birds of prey and Young led a charge into the postseason for the first time since 2017 that kept rolling with a first-round win over New York.
For subscribers: Beard: New roles suit former Pistons thriving in NBA playoffs
Embiid, the NBA MVP runner-up, Simmons and a high-priced cast of stars were supposed to put the upstart Hawks in their place. It never happened.
Young shook off an otherwise off night from the floor — 5-for-23 — and kept shooting until he hit that 3 for a 93-87 lead with 2:31 left in the game.
Huerter, who led the Hawks with 27 points, sealed the win with three free throws and the packed house of 18,624 fell as silent as it was when the season opened without any fans.
Sixers fans let the home team have it and booed them off the court and were reprimanded by the public address announcer for throwing trash on the court.
Embiid scored 31 points.
This marked only the second year since 1973 — when the NBA began seeding for the playoffs by conference — when neither No. 1 seed will make the conference finals. West No. 1 seed Utah was eliminated by the Clippers.
Philly was on edge — the public address announcer even noted “it’s a little quiet in here” — having seen two losses in this series already. Playing for the season, Rivers played four reserves over the final minutes of the third that produced little offense and little faith the Sixers could keep pace. Embiid returned but promplty had a pass picked off by Lou Williams for a fastbreak dunk and the Hawks closed the third with a 76-71 lead. The Sixers had 17 turnovers.
Rattled by Game 7 and a packed house on the road? Not these Hawks, who took a 26-point lead in a Game 1 victory in Philly and then rallied from 26 down on the same court to pull out Game 5.
Young, the breakout start of the postseason, was a nonfactor in the first half. He had more pushups (three, after he was knocked to the court by Dwight Howard) than baskets (1 for 12) in the first half. He even got T’d up for arguing over a rescinded foul call on the Sixers.
No matter. Huerter and John Collins picked up the slack and Danilo Gallinari hit consecutive 3s -- one of an Embiid turnover -- to send the Hawks into halftime with a 48-46 lead.
The Sixers had 10 turnovers in the half and again, Embiid and Curry showed the only signs of life for the offense. Simmons could be playing his way out of Philly with a postseason to forget. The All-Star guard was whistled for his third foul with 25.9 seconds in the first half and took only two shots. The embattled guard had vowed all series he would return to an aggressive style but instead was invisible on offense.
He picked up his fourth foul moments into the third quarter.
Rivers said before the game there were two big keys to winning Game 7.
“Execution for sure, and trust at the end of the day,” he said. “Trusting what you’ve done all day and not getting away from it.”
The Sixers strayed for what got them this far and now they head into an early offseason with a summer full of questions.
More NBA playoffs
Devin Booker's first exposure to playoff basketball continues to be a revelation.
Not necessarily for him, but for the rest of the NBA.
Booker had 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for his first career triple-double and the Phoenix Suns overcame Chris Paul's absence to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 120-114 on Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
“I don't understand why everyone's acting surprised at this point,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said about Booker's big day. “This is his first time on this stage but he's capable. He's more than capable. He're more than ready. He prepares like no other.”
Paul sat out because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Clippers star Kawhi Leonard missed his third straight game because of a sprained right knee.
Tied at 93 to start the fourth, the Suns went on a 12-2 run and pulled ahead 105-95 on Cam Johnson's dunk with 8:08 remaining. The Clippers wouldn't go away, though, cutting a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes to 116-114 when Terance Mann hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left.
But that's where the rally stopped for Los Angeles.
“I have no excuse,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought we played hard and competed. A little credit — they were making shots and we didn’t. But I loved our fight. I loved what I saw.”
Booker scored on a dunk on the next possession to seal Phoenix's eighth straight victory, getting a free lane to the basket on the blown defensive coverage. The sixth-year guard was a surprising omission from the All-NBA teams released a few days ago but he certainly looked the part on Sunday.
He wasn't worried about where this game ranks among his best performances.
“I'll let you guys do the rankings,” Booker said. “I'm just going out there to win every game possible. I've been saying this since the start of the playoffs —-every next game is the biggest game.”
Game 2 is on Tuesday night in Phoenix.
Booker continues to cement his superstar status and was productive and efficient in one of the best games of his career. He shot 15 of 29 from the field, carving apart a defense that had to play just 36 hours after closing out the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
The third quarter featured a stellar scoring duel between Booker and L.A.'s Paul George, who finished with 34 points. Booker scored 18 points in the quarter, and George had 15, including a 3-pointer that tied it at 93 heading to the fourth.
The Suns led 76-68 midway through the third but George scored eight straight points — including six points on two long 3-pointers — to tie it up. It was the start of a 16-2 run that helped Los Angeles take an 84-78 lead.
Booker and the Suns responded quickly. Booker scored 12 points — mostly on mid-range jumpers — in the final 3:09 of the third to get Phoenix back on track. Then Phoenix rolled through the fourth quarter.
“We got to figure out how to counter, which we will, figure out another game plan,” George said. “I think this was a good feel-out game to see adjustments. We have been great at adjusting."
Deandre Ayton had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Suns. Cameron Payne started for Paul and had 11 points and nine assists.
Reggie Jackson added 24 points for the Clippers.