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'These guys just don't give up': How Hawks pulled off epic 26-point comeback win vs. 76ers

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At the time, John Collins’ 3-pointer with 8:21 left in the third quarter seemed like another inconsequential bucket for the Atlanta Hawks in a blowout against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Hawks trailed by 23 after the Collins shot, and the Sixers, behind Joel Embiid and Seth Curry, were rolling in front of the home crowd in Philadelphia.

“Nobody was hanging their heads. Nobody was pouting on the bench,” Hawks veteran Lou Williams said. “You couldn’t tell from the body language that we were down big throughout the majority of this game.”

Looking back, that Collins 3 was the beginning of a monumental comeback by the Hawks and an epic collapse by the Sixers.

Fifth-seeded Atlanta erased a 26-point deficit and defeated top-seeded Philadelphia 109-106, taking a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Bucket by bucket, stop by stop, the Hawks crawled then climbed back into the game before overtaking and stunning the Sixers and the NBA world.

“You chip away, you chip away,” Williams said, “and before you know you’ve got a game.”

Trae Young scored 39 points, Collins contributed 19 points and 11 rebounds, Danilo Gallinari had 16 points and eight rebounds and Williams scored 15.

“We’ve been a lot better at closing out games and finishing games no matter what the score is,” Young said.

Trae Young celebrates with fans after the Atlanta Hawks' Game 5 win against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Trae Young celebrates with fans after the Atlanta Hawks' Game 5 win against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Atlanta can close out the series in Game 6 on Friday at home (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Hawks have not reached the conference finals since 2015 when they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The winner of Game 5 in a 2-2 series has won the series 82% of the time.

The Hawks have turned into the Masters of the Comeback. They trailed by 18 in Game 4 and won. They were down 26 in Game 5 and won.

“I really don’t have words to describe this comeback tonight,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.

Before this series, the Hawks were 0-41 the past 25 seasons when trailing by 18 or more points.

They just came back from 18 down to win in consecutive games.

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The Hawks know how to do this. During the regular season, Atlanta trailed Orlando 106-90 with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter and won. They were down 17 against Detroit in the fourth quarter and won.

Atlanta never gives in, an admirable character trait that is responsible for their favorable position.

“We started to get stops and just continued to stay with it,” McMillan said. “We talk about our three Cs. Being calm, being clear about what we need to do and being connected out there on both ends of the floor. They just showed their true character tonight.”

This is the anatomy of a comeback. It takes buckets and stops. Repeat until necessary.

Atlanta cooked, and Philadelphia sputtered. In the final 20 minutes and 21 seconds, the Hawks outscored the Sixers 63-34.

“We know we’ve got a lot of guys who can make shots and make 3s and can really get our offense going,” Young said. “We can put up a lot of points really quick.”

The Sixers led 72-46 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. It was down to a manageable 87-69 deficit by the start of the fourth quarter.

“This is something we’ve conditioned ourselves to do,” McMillan said. “In the fourth quarter, look at where we are, make our adjustments and try to finish strong. These guys just don’t give up. They continue to fight.”

Yet, the Sixers were still ahead 93-78 with 8:39 to play. Four consecutive Williams buckets for the Hawks made it 100-89. Another Collins 3 and Atlanta was down just 100-92.

That’s when Young took over. He scored all 13 of his fourth-quarter points in the final 4:30. His three free throws with 1:26 to play put Atlanta ahead 105-104 – its first lead of the game. Two more Young free throws with 8.4 seconds left pushed the advantage to 109-104.

Doc Rivers – he knows a thing or two about collapses – the Sixers and their fans were stunned. Just 40 minutes earlier, it looked like the Sixers were on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference finals.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers reacts during the fourth quarter of Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks.
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers reacts during the fourth quarter of Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks.

Philadelphia wasted 37 points and 13 rebounds from Embiid and a playoff career-high 36 points from Curry.

Atlanta took this game just as much as Philadelphia gave it away. In the final 20 minutes, the Hawks shot 66.7% from the field, 46.2% on 3s and made all nine free throws. The Sixers were 33.3%, 27.3% and 61.1%, respectively. Young had 21 points in in 17 minutes. Williams scored his 15 points in 16 minutes.

“We’re a really confident group of guys who are kind of naïve to the process of winning basketball games,” Williams said. “We never lack confidence. No matter what, we always feel like we have an opportunity to go out and give ourselves a chance to win a basketball game. We never gave up. We never settled.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta Hawks comeback vs. Philadelphia 76ers: How Game 5 win happened