PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Trae Young ripped off his jersey and bounded up the steps to toss his dad the souvenir from the first Game 7 road victory in Hawks history.
Young’s going to need a new uniform.
He shook off a cold shooting night and improbably helped Atlanta become road warriors one more time, and now the Hawks are taking their stunning turnaround to the Eastern Conference finals.
“We did it in a big way,” Young said.
They busted the Process along the way.
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.
“I felt like they were built for this moment tonight to win this game,” coach Nate McMillan said.
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 debated rebuilding plan known as the Process.
“We gave them life from Game 1,” 76ers forward Tobias Harris said. “It’s a young, hungry team.”
How’s this for brazen confidence: John Collins, who had 14 point and 16 rebounds, wore for his postgame interview a T-shirt of him dunking on Embiid from Game 6.
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 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.
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.
Kevin Huerter sealed the win with three free throws.
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 had 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight turnovers playing with a meniscus tear in his right knee.
“I still believe if I was 100%, if we were all together,” he said, “I still believe we had a shot at winning it all.”
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.
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.
“This team is special, man,” 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.”
Huerter led the Hawks with 27 points.
“With guys going out, we’re definitely telling him we need him to be more aggressive and score the ball more,” Young said. “He’s been doing that and he did it tonight.”
Young 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). He even got T’d up for arguing over a rescinded foul call on the Sixers.
From New York to Philly, Young’s been fearless and he refused to shrink down the stretch even when his shots didn’t fall.
“I knew I had to find a way,” Young said. “My shot was off. My right hand and shoulder were giving out. But my teammates showed up and made plays. I wanted to come through in the end and help them out.”
Hawks: Bogdan Bogdanovic played after leaving Game 6 with right knee soreness.
76ers: Embiid was fined $35,000 by the NBA for escalating an on-court altercation in Game 6. The NBA said Embiid also failed to comply with an NBA Security interview following the on-court incident.
Simmons took only four shots and refused to take an open dunk late in the game that could have kept the Sixers in the game. He had a miserable postseason and could have played his last game as a Sixer.
“I’ll be honest. I thought the turning point was when we, I don’t know how to say it, is when we had an open shot and we made one free throw,” Embiid said.
Asked if Simmons could still be a point guard for a championship contender, coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t have an answer.
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