2021 Playoffs: East Semifinal | 76ers (1) vs. Hawks (5)
Top seeds 76ers, Jazz facing elimination games in semifinals
Lower seeds each won Game 5, taking control of their conference semifinal matchups.
Charles Odum | The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — The NBA’s top playoff seeds, Philadelphia and Utah, are on the brink of being eliminated.
The 76ers have blown leads of 18 and 26 points in back-to-back losses to the Atlanta Hawks, who now lead the Eastern Conference semifinal series 3-2. Atlanta, the No. 5 seed, can clinch the series at home on Friday night after storming back for an improbable 109-106 win on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
“Our backs are against the wall right now and we have to play like it,” said Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris.
Seth Curry said the 76ers should not have psychological scars from losing big leads in back-to-back losses.
“It shouldn’t,” Curry said. “We’re grown men over here. Watch the film and learn from it and bounce back.”
Led by Trae Young, the Hawks are attempting to advance to a conference final for only the second time since moving to Atlanta in 1968. The Hawks were swept by Cleveland in the 2015 conference final. The Hawks won their only NBA championship in 1958, when the team was based in St. Louis.
Hawks coach Nate McMillan says he knows Friday night’s game will be a new challenge.
“I think you expect them to be certainly more aggressive,” McMillan said Thursday of the 76ers. “They are in a do-or-die situation. Their season ends if they don’t win the game. We definitely expect them to come out with that sense of urgency and play aggressive and just really leave everything out on the floor. I will be challenging our guys to do the same.”
The Jazz also facing a must-win game as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Despite playing without Kawhi Leonard, who was held out with a knee injury, the Los Angeles Clippers took a 3-2 lead in the semifinal series with a 119-111 win on Wednesday night. The Clippers can clinch the series at home on Friday night.
The Clippers, who moved to Los Angeles in 1984, have never played in the conference final. They are 0-5 in conference semifinal series in Los Angeles. The team also never played in a conference final as the San Diego Clippers (1978-84) or Buffalo Braves (1970-78).
The Clippers seemed to be on a path to continue their inglorious playoff history when they suffered what seemed to be a devastating injury to Leonard, who was averaging 30.4 points in the playoffs.
Instead, Paul George was dominant, scoring 37 points with 16 rebounds and five assists to give Los Angeles the series lead. He became the first player in Clippers history to have at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.
“I thought this was our toughest matchup this postseason,” George said. “This was our biggest game of our season, especially being down our best player.”