Upstart Hawks upset 76ers in Game 7, advance to Eastern Conference finals

Trae Young waves after Hawks-76ers Game 7
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Philadelphia fans, after one threw a can onto the floor late in the game, booed. Joel Embiid slumped his shoulders. Ben Simmons lost all expression in his face.

Meanwhile, Trae Young – the preeminent villain in the 2021 playoffs – waved goodbye with a sly grin.

The Hawks beat the 76ers 103-96 in Game 7 Sunday – a result that will send shockwaves through the league. Atlanta advances to the Eastern Conference Finals with Game 1 Wednesday against the Bucks, who now look even more primed to reach their first NBA Finals since 1974. Philadelphia enters a summer of potential shakeup.

The first team to reach the conference finals without an All-Star since the 1994 Pacers, the Hawks are making a special run. Like Indiana’s top player of that era – Reggie Miller – Young should have been an All-Star and tormented the Knicks in New York. But a second series victory was quite unexpected for Atlanta this year.

With Embiid, Simmons and home-court advantage, the top-76ers entered the second-round series with a 62% chance of winning based on betting odds.

Yet, the Hawks were more aggressive, including in a Game 7 that was never separated by more than seven points. Kevin Huerter (27 points) led Atlanta, coming through after scoring zero points on 0-of-7 shooting in Game 5. Young, as he has done throughout his breakout postseason, stepped up late on the road (though he was uneven overall with 21 points on 5-of-23 shooting with 10 assists and six turnovers).

This is a young Hawks team, the roster completely turned over since Atlanta’s run to the 2015 Eastern Conference finals.

Back then, Philadelphia was in the midst of multiple seasons of deliberate losing. That misery was supposed to yield significant postseason success, but the 76ers haven’t advanced past the second round since.

Embiid (31 points, 11 rebounds and eight turnovers) mostly did his part tonight. But Simmons, though he had 13 assists, scored just five points on four shots. Tobias Harris (24 points on 8-of-24 shooting, 14 rebounds and four assists) tried to pick up the scoring slack in what wasn’t really a winning formula.

The future of the Embiid-Simmons pairing now faces more uncertainty than ever, as The Process has yet to bear the desired fruit.