Trae Young stripped off his jersey and walked up the steps to throw at his father the memory of the Hawks’ first Game 7 victory on the road.
Young will need a new uniform.
He shook off a cold shooting night and improbably helped Atlanta become road warriors once again, and now the Hawks are making a surprising turnaround in the Eastern Conference finals.
“We did it big,” Young said.
They broke the Process on the way.
Young made a late triple and scored 21 points to help Atlanta win for the third time in the series in Philadelphia, a 103-96 win over the top-seeded 76ers on Sunday night in the seventh game.
The Hawks will open their first Eastern Final since 2015 against the Bucks on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
“I felt like they were made for this moment tonight to win this game,” coach Nate McMillan said.
Atlanta was 0-9 in Games 7 on the road.
But the Hawks ignored their ignominious history and got one in Philadelphia, 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 brought them to life from Game 1,” 76ers forward Tobias Harris said. “It is a young and hungry team.”
How is this for a cheeky confidence? John Collins, who had 14 points and 16 rebounds, wore a jersey of him diving into Embiid from Game 6 for his postgame interview.
Deep down not so deep, even the Hawks couldn’t 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 became birds of prey and Young led a charge into the postseason for the first time since 2017 that continued to advance with a first-round victory over New York.
Embiid, NBA MVP runner-up Simmons and a cast of high-priced stars were supposed to put the Hawks in their place. Never happened.
Young jerked off the court one otherwise unpleasant night (5 of 23) and kept shooting until he hit those three for a 93-87 lead with 2:31 left.
Kevin Huerter sealed the victory with three free throws.
Sixers fans let the home team have it and booed them off the court and were reprimanded by the public announcer for littering on the court.
Embiid had 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight turnovers playing with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
“I still think if it was 100%, if we were all together,” he said, “I still think we had a chance to win it all.”
This marked only the second year since 1973, when the NBA began seeding for the conference playoffs, when none of the number one seeds will make it to the conference finals. The Clippers eliminated the No. 1 seed in the West, Utah.
Rocked by Game 7 and a full house along the way? Not these Hawks, who took a 26-point lead in a Game 1 win at Philadelphia and then rallied from 26 points on the same court to get Game 5 out.
“This team is special, man,” Huerter said. “Everyone has told us all year. For us to go this far and win in this building in Game 7 is huge for us. “
Huerter led the Hawks with 27 points.
“With the guys coming out, we’re definitely telling him that 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 not a factor in the first half. He did more push-ups (three, after Dwight Howard threw him on the floor) than baskets (1 of 12). He even picked T up for arguing about a fouled foul on the Sixers.
From New York to Philadelphia, Young has been unafraid and refused to flinch even when his shots didn’t land.
“I knew I had to find a way,” Young said. “My shot was missed. My right hand and shoulder were giving way. But my teammates showed up and made plays. I wanted to get ahead in the end and help them. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism