ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks turned this back into a series.
The Hawks defeated the 76ers, 103-100, Monday night at State Farm Arena to tie their Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece. Game 5 of the best-of-seven series is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers blew a golden opportunity to put the Hawks on their heels by taking a 3-1 lead. But they knew the Hawks wouldn’t lie down in this tough series matchup that was expected to go at least six games.
The problem is, the Sixers blew a commanding 18-point, second-quarter lead. Then, with the Sixers down 101-100, Joel Embiid missed a layup with 8.8 seconds left. And the Hawks escaped with the victory after Seth Curry missed a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
Embiid had 17 points and a game-high 21 rebounds. However, he made just 4 of 20 shots, and missed all 12 of his second-half attempts. The league MVP runner-up played in his fourth consecutive game with small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. He went to the locker room to get his knee checked out in the first quarter before returning to play.
“I just try to do the best that I can,” Embiid said of playing injured.
The four-time All-Star said that he had a great look on his layup attempt with 8.8 seconds left.
“I just didn’t have the lift,” he said. “I thought I got fouled, too. But usually I would go up, especially for a bucket like that, try to dunk it. Try to get fouled and get an and-one. But I just [attribute] it to not being able to jump for obvious reasons.
“Like I said, it’s tough, but I got to think about Game 5.”
However, Embiid didn’t use his lack of lift as an excuse for missing all 12 of his second-half attempts.
“I got to do better,” he said.
“I mean, he missed good looks,” Ben Simmons said. “It happens. It is what it is. We have to help him out and make it easier on him to get open when they send the doubles and finish.”
Tobias Harris had a team-high 20 points for the Sixers, with 14 coming in the first half. He got only five shots after intermission, missing three. Curry added 17 points while making 3 of 6 threes and Simmons had 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists in the loss.
As a team, Philly shot 32.4% in the second half, when they missed 12 of 16 three-pointers. The ball movement went away during that time, as the Sixers stopped looking for teammates.
“I thought we started the game off that way,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “Then we went back to the ball movement. Then we went back to hero basketball. Basically, everybody wanted to be the hero instead of just trusting the team and trusting each other.
“When you do that, you usually lose, especially when the other team outworks you the whole [expletive] game. That’s what they did today.”
The Hawks had the edge in points in the paint (40-34), second-chance points (21-9) and fast-break points (9-5), and rebounds (55-49). That made up for their shooting just 36.6% from the field.
Trae Young, playing with a sore shoulder, paced the Hawks with 25 points and a game-high 18 assists.
With Young leading the way, Atlanta outscored the Sixers 54-38 after intermission. But the Sixers still had chances.
Embiid hit a pair of foul shots to give the Sixers a 95-94 lead with 3:23 remaining. Then Furkan Korkmaz drained a three-pointer on the next possession to put Philly up four points. But John Collins’ corner three-pointer pulled the Hawks within one before Atlanta regained the lead on Young’s floater with 1:17 left.
Young extended the Hawks’ lead to 101-98 by making a pair of foul shots with 49.6 seconds remaining.
Embiid closed the gap to 101-100 by hitting two free throws nine seconds later. On the ensuing possession, the Hawks turned the ball over under the basket as Collins’ pass to Clint Capela bounced off the center and out of bounds.
But Embiid missed his 1-footer following a timeout. The Hawks were awarded the possession after Simmons knocked the ball of bounds.
Atlanta tried to run out the clock, but Matisse Thybulle intentionally fouled Young. The Hawks star made a pair of foul shots to give Atlanta a 103-100 lead with 6.6 seconds left before Curry misfired on his three-pointer.
Korkmaz started in place of small forward Danny Green, who suffered a Grade 2 right calf strain early in Game 3. This marked his first career start in 18 playoff appearances.
Before the game, Hawks coach Nate McMillan talked about coming out with a sense of urgency and getting off to a better start. That was a must for a Hawks squad that had been outscored by 48 points in the previous 10 quarters heading into Monday night’s game.
“We pretty much know where we are and what we have to do,” McMillan said. “I don’t think that it’s much that we have to say, going into this game. We’ve been talking about this for the last two days.”
Atlanta had also struggled mightily from the three-point line in the Games 2 and 3. Making three-pointers was their best opportunity to get back into the series. So it wasn’t surprising that the Hawks inserted sharpshooting reserve Kevin Huerter in the starting lineup.
McMillan was asked during pregame if this was a must-win game for the Hawks.
“It’s not a must-win,” he said. “It’s a need to win. A must-win is you go home tomorrow. We definitely need to win this game. That’s where we are.
“We are not in a must-win. It doesn’t end if we drop this game tonight. It will make it even tougher, but it’s not a must-win situation right now. We need to win this game.”
The teams combined to shoot 3-for-17 in the first 2 minutes, 28 seconds. Rivers called a timeout at the point when Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a three-pointer to put the Hawks up, 5-2.
The Sixers, however, eventually settled down and starting making shots and led 28-20 after one quarter. They ended up shooting 46.2% in the quarter, while the Hawks struggled through 25% shooting.
Simmons was very active in the first quarter.
The point guard finished with 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in 10:38 of action. He scored the Sixers’ first points of the game on a dunk. His other basket also came on a dunk. But for the most part, the three-time All-Star and two-time first-team all-defensive selection grabbed rebounds and set up teammates.
Curry, Simmons’ backcourt mate, led the Sixers with eight points in the quarter. Embiid had an off-shooting quarter with two points on 0-for-4 shooting. But he finished with nine rebounds. Harris had six points on 3-for-5 shooting.
“But I thought from the beginning of the game, even before I went back to the locker room, I just felt like I didn’t have it tonight,” Embiid said.
Even though the Sixers missed some early shots, they put on a three-point shooting clinic in the first half.
They made 7 of 11 three-pointers (63.6%) en route to taking a 62-49 lead at intermission. Curry made 3 of 5 three-pointers en route to scoring 13 points. Harris, the team’s highest scorer with 14 points, made both of his three-point attempts.
Embiid and Tyrese Maxey both made their lone attempts, while Matisse Thybulle went 0-for-2.
However, they made just 2 of 10 threes and 8 of 21 shots overall while being outscored 31-20 in the third quarter.
The Hawks eventually battled back from a 60-42 deficit to take an 83-82 lead with 11:45 to play.