Don’t underestimate the Atlanta Hawks. Once again, they have shown they are capable of pulling off the improbable.
After trailing by as many as 26 points, the Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers 109–106 in Game 5 of the second round of the NBA playoffs Wednesday night. Behind a dominant fourth quarter rally, they stole a game in Philadelphia to grab a 3-2 series lead.
Here are three thoughts on the comeback victory.
The Hawks never quit
In each of the last two games of this series, the Hawks have trailed by at least 18 points. That sounds like a recipe for two losses, right? Think again.
Atlanta somehow pulled off victories in both contests, doing so in impressive fashion Wednesday night.
The Hawks dug themselves an early hole and found themselves down by 20 midway through the second quarter. But Trae Young and Co. found life toward the end of the third quarter with the Sixers stars on the bench. They entered the fourth quarter down 87–69 before going on to outscore Philadelphia 40–19 in the final frame to win it.
Veteran guard Lou Williams scored 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the fourth quarter to spark the effort and Young went on a personal 7–0 run to turn the comeback into a reality. He hit a mid-range jumper to bring the game within four points with under three minutes left, followed by one of his signature running floaters. Shortly after, he drew a foul beyond the arc to earn three shots at the stripe, where he gave the Hawks their first lead of the night.
It was all Atlanta the rest of the way.
“These guys just don’t give up. They continue to fight,” Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan said.
That resiliency has become a key trait of this young team. McMillan took the helm after former head coach Lloyd Pierce was fired halfway through the year, at which point they held a dismal 14–20 record. The Hawks defied expectations and went 27–11 the rest of the way. They’ve topped it off with two massive comebacks and are now on the cusp of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
The injured stars were back
This year’s playoffs have been adversely affected by injuries to many of the league’s stars, including a pair in this series.
Young has been dealing with shoulder soreness while 76ers big man Joel Embiid has been playing with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. But you wouldn’t know it by the looks of it Wednesday night.
After missing all 12 of his attempts from the field and looking like a shadow of himself in the second half of Game 4, Embiid came out firing. He made eight consecutive shots to start the contest, scoring 17 points in the first quarter to match his total from the game prior.
Embiid was a force in the first half, backing down defenders down low, fighting through double teams and sinking fadeaway jumpers on the offensive end, all the while locking down the paint defensively. By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, he was up to 24 points and 10 rebounds already.
Though the performance was spoiled by a pair of missed free throws in the midst of the Sixers collapse down the stretch, Embiid finished with 39 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
On the opposing side, Young continued to show why he’s an emerging superstar. He finished the night with 39 points, seven assists and three steals, marking the fifth time he has scored at least 30 points this postseason—all of which came on the road.
The 76ers’ season is in jeopardy
The importance of Game 5 in the NBA playoffs can’t be overstated. Historically, in series tied 2–2, the winner of the fifth game has advanced to the next round 82% of the time.
The Sixers had a 26-point lead and home court advantage, the chance to secure such a crucial game fully within their grasp. But it slipped away. And now their season is at risk of doing the same.
“We got too comfortable,” said guard Ben Simmons. “We didn’t play the way we should be playing.”
The two squads will meet for Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night. If the Hawks pull off the closeout victory, it will be the second time in as many seasons that the top seeded team in the Eastern Conference has been knocked off by the fifth-seed in the second round.
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