A stunning Sixers collapse has the Hawks on the brink of the Eastern Conference finals

·3-min read

After a worrisome performance in Game 4, Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid played the first 11 minutes of Wednesday's Eastern Conference semifinal, scored 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting, dominated defensively, stared down Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela, warranting a technical foul, and grabbed a seat on the bench with a +17 rating and a 38-21 edge. The game, for all intents and purposes, should have been over.

Only, Embiid and his Sixers disappeared again down the stretch of Game 5.

Philadelphia led by 25 points at the 3:19 mark of the third quarter, and Atlanta closed Game 5 out on a 51-23 run — including a 14-0 sprint to the finish — to secure a 109-106 win, break a 2-2 series tie and head home with a chance to advance to the conference finals on Friday. The Sixers were stunned, and their fans let them hear it, booing throughout a four-minute scoring drought and littering center court with debris. 

Trae Young led the Hawks with 39 points and seven assists. John Collins posted another double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds). Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari combined for 31 points on 21 shots off the bench.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young listens to a silent Wells Fargo Center. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young listens to a silent Wells Fargo Center. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Make no mistake, though: This was one of the biggest choke jobs in NBA playoff history, maybe worse than a Los Angeles Clippers' second-half collapse against the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the 2015 Western Conference semifinals — another monumental breakdown authored by current Sixers coach Doc Rivers.

For the first 34:33 of Game 5, Embiid, playing on a partially torn right lateral meniscus, found "the lift" he lost on Monday, when his 0-for-12 effort in the second half cost the Sixers a chance to control the series.

Embiid collected 25 points and 10 rebounds by halftime of Game 5, staking the Sixers to a 62-40 lead. When he subbed out at the 1:27 mark of the third quarter, Philadelphia still led by 22. Also in the third, Sixers guard Seth Curry scored 14 of his playoff career-high 36 points (on 13-for-19 shooting, 7-of-12 from distance), helping his team stave off a 12-point stanza from Young and enter the fourth with an 87-69 lead.

Somehow, Philadelphia still managed to squander 73 combined points from Embiid and Curry, thanks in large part to all-time duds from Simmons (eight points, 2-4 FG, 4-14 FT) and Tobias Harris (four points, 2-11 FG).

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With Embiid resting, Atlanta's reserves ignited an 11-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, cutting the deficit to 87-76 with 10:15 remaining. Embiid returned, but the onslaught continued. A banked John Collins 3 cut it to 100-92 at the 5:25 mark, and a Capela dunk made it 104-98 two minutes later. Young scored the game's next seven points to give Atlanta its first lead with 1:26 left.

The Hawks outscored the Sixers 40-19 in the fourth quarter, when 13 points apiece from Young and Williams each outscored Embiid, Simmons and Harris combined (eight points, 1-8 FG). The Sixers missed eight straight field goals after Curry's 22-foot jumper gave them a 100-86 with 6:25 on the clock. Once Simmons (surprisingly) made consecutive free throws to make it 104-94 with 4:23 remaining, Philadelphia did not score again until Curry's meaningless mid-range jumper just before the buzzer sounded on a brutal loss.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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