Composure will be the key to the Hawks clinching the series

Nate McMillan

Closeout games are always the toughest, but they are even more challenging when one team — the Hawks — has come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits not once but twice in a row. The 76ers have every reason to believe they can come into Atlanta and flip the script, sending the series back to Philadelphia for a Game 7. Hell, they’ve already done it once, and they were a few minutes of fundamental basketball away from taking both games in Atlanta.

The Hawks also have to overcome the emotional high that inevitably occurs when you come back from 26 points on the road to put yourselves in a position to clinch a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals at home. Many people around the city are already calling Game 5’s triumph the greatest win in Hawks franchise history. Well, it won’t be remembered nearly as fondly if Trae Young and company can’t finish the job against a Philadelphia team that now has nothing to lose.

I expect the 76ers to come out with a fire lit under their ass. They’ll be more focused offensively, and their intensity on defense will be at an all-time high. This is a team with championship aspirations. They are well aware of the state of the rest of the league. They know if they can somehow skate past the Hawks, they have as good a shot as anybody to win the Larry O’Brien trophy.

It’s up to the Hawks to match that intensity from the opening tip. Atlanta may be up 3-2, but they have to treat this like a win or go home game themselves. It goes without saying, winning a Game 7 in Philly will be next to impossible, especially after blowing a golden opportunity to take care of business at home.

For the young Hawks, this will be by far their most formidable challenge together as a group. This isn’t the Knicks we are talking about. The 76ers are a team that’s been in this position before and have their eyes on a bigger prize. However, every time I seem to think the Hawks may be in over their heads, they stay composed and rise to the occasion, and a lot of that has to do with Trae Young. The 22-year-old phenom has been nothing short of sensational in this postseason, and if the Hawks are going to finish the job and clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals, he’ll have to be spectacular one last time.

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