ATLANTA — Who needs style points?
The 76ers were able to get stops down the stretch while the offense was horrid. Added to the frenzy was that Ben Simmons, their All-Star point guard, was either uninvolved or on the bench.
That didn’t matter to the Sixers, who were in a win-or-go fishing elimination game. A win is a win.
Tobias Harris sank a pair of foul shots with 2.1 seconds left to secure a 104-99 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The victory knotted the best-of-seven series, 3-3. The winner-take-all finale will be Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers survived a 34-point, 12-assist effort from the Hawks’ Trae Young. And they also survived by making only 22.2% of their shots in the fourth quarter. Simmons didn’t attempt a shot in the quarter. He went 2-for-4 from the foul line as the Hawks went to Hack-a-Ben.
The Sixers were able to pull out the victory by scoring their last eight points from the foul line.
After the Hawks closed the gap to 98-95 with 20.5 seconds left, Tyrese Maxey hit two huge free throws with 18.8 to play. Atlanta pulled within three points two more times. Both times, Harris responded with clutch free throws.
It was a good bounce-back game for the power forward, who had four points on 2-for-11 shooting in Game 5.
On this night, he finished with 24 points and five rebounds. He went 4-for-4 from the foul line. Seth Curry also finished with 24 points while making 6 of 8 three-pointers. The shooting guard sparked the Sixers in the third quarter. He either scored or assisted on every point in the quarter-opening 14-0 run that put the Sixers up, 61-51.
Joel Embiid overcame early shooting woes to finish with 22 points and 13 rebounds. He made 9 of 23 shots and committed eight turnovers. Embiid made just 4 of 11 shots and had five of his turnovers in the first half.
Meanwhile, Maxey provided a spark off the bench, scoring a playoff career-high 16 points with seven rebounds, and no turnovers in 29 minutes, 28 seconds of court time. He was a game-best plus-12. The rookie was actually the saving grace for the Sixers on a night that Simmons wasn’t effective.
Simmons finished with six points, nine rebounds, and five assists. He made 2 of 6 field goals and committed five fouls. The two-time All-Defensive team selection attempted one shot after halftime for the third consecutive.
The Sixers had planned for Maxey to be the first player off the bench in Game 6. However, they went with Matisse Thybulle instead because of Harris’ early foul trouble.
“We also told him down the stretch of the game, we are going to need him on the floor with Ben, because we needed a ball handler,” coach Doc Rivers said. “You know, if Ben brings it up, they would foul even under two [minutes] because he would have the ball.
“So, by putting it in Tyrese’s hand and making Ben a picker, it allowed Ben to stay on the floor and allowed us to still run our offense. So it worked out for us.”
Late in the game, Embiid and John Collins had to be separated.
Embiid was called for an offensive foul while appearing to score a basket on Collins in the paint with 4:03 remaining.
After both player fell to the floor, with Embiid falling on top of Collins, Collins shoved Embiid off him and began yapping at Embiid. The players got up and Embiid took steps toward the Hawks power forward. Embiid, while extending his arms, forced Collins off the court and to the side of the basketball stanchion. Both players received technicals.
“I didn’t think it was an offensive foul,” Embiid said. “I was just trying to stay calm and had my hands up and someone was pushing me from the back, and I don’t understand why I got a tech. But I guess it is what it is.
“I was hacked all night, and I don’t think I got a free throw until I got to the fourth quarter. So it was questionable. But we got the win, and that’s all that matters.”
The Sixers were called for 24 fouls compared to 22 by the Hawks, who had to foul late in the game to get that number to 22. Atlanta shot 24 free throws compared 23 for the Sixers.
Even still, Philly felt like the Hawks were getting away with extra stuff. Simmons and Harris both picked up two quick, early fouls at the start of the game.
“I told them they had to call it both ways,” Embiid said. “Whether it was Ben or Tobias in early foul trouble. I just felt like it wasn’t called both way, especially because of the minimal contact they get on the point guard [Young]. When it comes to us, we don’t get the same thing.
“So I just want it called both ways. If we are going to call something like nothing on their point guard. It should be the same way when they call the same thing on me if I get touched.”
In a game with bizarre moments, the arena lights went out with 1:59 to play shortly after Young’s three-pointer closed the gap to 94-93. But after the lights came back on, Embiid scored to put the Sixers up three. On the next possession, he made one of two foul shots with 1:15 left to make it 97-93. Maxey made it 98-93 with 27.2 seconds left.
The Sixers had all Thursday and most of Friday to think about erasing mistakes that led to losses in the previous two games.
They lost Game 4 after holding an 18-point lead. The Sixers followed that up by blowing a 26-point lead while losing Game 5.
“They’re good,” Rivers said pregame. “They’re ready. I think our guys are ready, but you never know if they’re all ready, how many are ready. Listen, if I could tell you all that, I would start having trading cards and picking cards and playing tricks. But my feeling, the guys are ready to play.”
Perhaps knowing the magnitude of the game, Rivers seemed a little tight talking to the media before the game.
The Sixers didn’t tweak their starting lineup.
Furkan Korkmaz remained at small forward instead of Thybulle. It marked Korkmaz’s third consecutive start in place of the injured Danny Green, who is sidelined with a right calf strain.
The Hawks had been attacking Korkmaz and Curry when the Sixers are on defense. As a second-team All-NBA Defense player, Thybulle would have been a major upgrade in an attempt to avoid mismatches.
But the sharpshooting Korkmaz provides much-needed floor spacing.
While Rivers appeared tight, the Sixers looked out of sorts at the start of the game.
Harris picked up two foul in the first four minutes. The Sixers missed nine of their first 13 shot attempts and trailed, 16-8, with 7:11 left in the quarter.
Turnovers then led to five points by Kevin Huerter to put the Hawks up, 20-8. Huerter’s final two points came at the foul line after being fouled by Simmons.
So the Sixers had two starters, Harris and Simmons, on the bench with two fouls at the 6:41 mark of the first quarter. The Hawks went on to take a 29-22 lead into the second quarter.
Curry was the Sixers’ leading scorer with eight points on 3-for-5 shooting. Embiid had four points on 2-for-7 shooting to go with four rebounds and four turnovers. Trae Young paced the Hawks with 11 points.
The Sixers opened the second quarter with a lineup of Harris, Maxey, Shake Milton, George Hill, and Dwight Howard. The lineup began the quarter with a 7-0 run to knot the score at 29.
They missed their next four shots as the Hawks built a 35-29 lead.
All 12 of Harris’ first-half points came in the second quarter as the Sixers went into the locker room down, 51-47. The Sixers were down only four points even though Embiid and Simmons had subpar halves.
Embiid had eight points and six rebounds, but missed seven of his 11 shots. He also committed another turnover in the second quarter to give him five of the Sixers’ seven first-half turnovers.
Simmons had almost as many fouls (three) as points (four) while being a minus-15 in the first half.
But the Sixers opened the second half on the Curry-fueled 14-0 run. He started things off with a three-pointer. Then Embiid buried one, followed by two more by Curry before his 21-foot pull up jumper made it 61-51 with 8:53 left in the third quarter.
The Sixers took an 80-76 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Hawks went to Hack-a-Ben with 6:39 remaining. Simmons made the first one to give the Sixers an 87-81 lead before missing the second.
The Hawks went back to it on the next possession. Again, Simmons made the first before missing the second to make it 88-81 with 6:06 to play. Rivers subbed the point guard out for Maxey two seconds later.