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PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 20: John Collins #20 of the Atlanta Hawks gets a rebound against Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Wells Fargo Center on June 20, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo : Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
The Atlanta Hawks barged into the Eastern Conference Finals after outlasting the Philadelphia 76ers, 103-96, in Game 7 of their best-of-seven series Sunday night. Trae Young scored 21 points, including a critical three-pointer down the stretch to lift the Hawks to their first Eastern Finals appearance since 2015.
Despite losing Game 6 in heart-breaking fashion in Atlanta, the Hawks headed to Philadelphia for Game 7 feeling confident of their chances to advance. They led by as much 26 points in their Game 1 win here before pulling off a stunning comeback victory in Game 5 where they erased a 26-point deficit.
Huerter the hero for Atlanta
It was Kevin Huerter who carried the offensive cudgels for the Hawks in this deciding seventh game, scoring 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field. With Trae Young struggling with his outside shot, it was Huerter who kept Atlanta in the game, scoring 12 points in the opening half which finished 48-46 in favor of the Hawks.
He continued his fine play in the fourth quarter, making cerebral plays on both ends of the floor to seal the unlikely win for Atlanta. He scored eight points in the final quarter, three of which came on the free throw line with 54 seconds remaining after Huerter drew a shooting foul from Thybulle beyond the arc.
On the ensuing possession, Gallinari tapped the ball away from Embiid, with Huerter grabbing possession. The Maryland star then quickly delivered an outlet pass to Gallinari who all but sealed Philadelphia’s fate with a dunk that stretched the lead to six points. He played outstanding defense the entire night, limiting Sixers guard Seth Curry to just 16 points in Game 7.
Huerter, the no. 19 overall pick in the 2018 draft, delivered the goods when it mattered most, producing huge numbers in Games 6 and 7. After going 4 of 10 from the field in Game 4 and missing all seven of his attempts in Game 5, Huerter bounced back in Game 6, scoring 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He further increased his production in the series decider, recording 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists in Game 7. It’s quite an amazing turnaround for Huerter who couldn’t even crack the starting lineup in the first three games of this series.
Speaking of turnarounds, how about the Hawks’ journey this season. They started the season 14-20 and were in danger of missing the playoffs. Management decided to shake things up, replacing coach Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan. The Hawks turned things around and the rest as they say is history with Atlanta booking a date with Milwaukee in the Eastern Final.
Sixers rue another early playoff exit
It’s still mind-blowing how the Sixers managed to lose this series against the Hawks. They were up 18 points in Game 4 with a chance to build a 3-1 edge in the series but lost. They were at home in Game 5 with a 24-point lead late in the second half and still lost. They were at home again in Game 7 with a four-point advantage in the fourth quarter and still they weren’t able to close the deal.
Much of the blame for this early playoff exit has been directed at star point guard Ben Simmons. He scored just a combined 19 points in the final three games of this series, including just five points in Game 7.
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