For only the second time in 50 years, the Atlanta Hawks are heading to the conference finals. The fifth-seeded Hawks knocked off the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in Philadelphia 103-96 in Game 7 to advance.
In a back-and-forth affair, the Hawks ultimately came out on top. The game featured 20 lead changes and 19 ties.
Atlanta pulled off the win despite a poor shooting night from Trae Young. The third-year point guard who had been so steady so far in the playoffs shot 5-of-23 from the field and 2-of-11 from the line.
However, Young came up with his second made 3-pointer at a crucial juncture as he nailed a 29-footer with 2:31 left to put the Hawks up by seven.
“I just had to find a way,” Young said of playing through his shooting struggles. “My shot was off tonight and my right hand, my shoulder is giving out and I was still trying to fight through and push through it and shots were going tonight but my teammates showed up and they played.”
The Sixers were able to get the lead back down to one but after Matisse Thybulle fouled Kevin Huerter on a three-point attempt with 54.0 seconds to go, Huerter knocked down all three to push it back to a four-point game.
On the ensuing possession, Joel Embiid turned the ball over on a spin move as Danilo Gallinari knocked the ball away. Huerter scooped up the loose ball and tossed it ahead to Gallinari, who slammed it home to quiet down the Philadelphia faithful.
Huerter led the Hawks with 27 points, a season-high for him. Despite the off shooting night, Young finished with 21 points and 10 assists.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Young becomes the second player in Hawks history to record a points-assists double-double on the road in a Game 7. The only other Hawk to do so was current Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers.
“It’s been our memo all year,” Huerter said about believing in themselves on the road. “We’ve had guys out all year, guys still banged up, a lot we wish were playing tonight. When you need someone to step up, this team is special. Everybody has counted us out all year. For us to get this far and win in this building in Game 7, that’s huge for us.”
Prior to Sunday, the Hawks were 0-9 in Game 7s on the road. That mark was the worst in NBA history.
The Hawks last made the conference finals in 2015 when they were eventually swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Prior to that, they didn’t make the round prior to the NBA Finals since the 1969-70 season when they lost the then-division finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. At that time, only one series victory was needed to make it that far.
The last time the Hawks made the NBA Finals was in 1961 when the St. Louis Hawks lost to the Boston Celtics.
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Hawks coach Nate McMillan is the seventh coach in NBA history to take a team to the conference finals during a season in which he became the head coach during the season. The previous four coaches to do so — Tyronn Lue (2016 Cavaliers), Pat Riley (twice: 2006 Heat, 1982 Lakers) and Paul Westhead (1980 Lakers) — all led their teams to the NBA championship.