Top-seeded 76ers Jazz face semi-final elimination matches
ATLANTA (AP) – The NBA playoff seeds Philadelphia and Utah are set to be eliminated.
The 76ers blew up the 18- and 26-point leads 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 win the series at home on Friday night after scoring an unlikely 109-106 victory Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
“Our backs are against the wall right now and we have to play like that,” said Tobias Harris of Philadelphia.
Seth Curry said the 76ers shouldn’t get psychological scars from losing big leads in back-to-back losses.
“It shouldn’t,” Curry said. “We are adults here. Watch the movie, learn from it and bounce back. “
Led by Trae Young, the Hawks are looking to advance to a conference final for just the second time since moving to Atlanta in 1968. The Hawks were swept away by Cleveland in the 2015 conference final. The Hawks won their only one. 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’d definitely expect them to be 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 expect them to come out with that sense of urgency and play aggressively and really leave everything on the pitch. I’ll challenge our guys to do the same.
The Jazz also face a must-see match as the No.1 seed in the Western Conference. Despite playing without a knee-injured Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers took a 3-2 lead in the semi-final series with a 119-111 win on Wednesday night. The Clippers can win the series at home on Friday night.
The Clippers, who moved to Los Angeles in 1984, never made the conference final. They are 0-5 in the conference semifinals in Los Angeles. The team has also never played in a conference final like the San Diego Clippers (1978-84) or the Buffalo Braves (1970-78).
The Clippers appeared to be on course to continue their inglorious playoff history when they suffered what appeared to be a devastating injury to Leonard, who averaged 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 top of the series. He became the first player in Clippers history to total at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.
“I thought it was our toughest game in the playoffs,” said George. “It was our biggest game of our season, especially being our best player.”
76ERS TO HAWKS
Game 6, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
– NEED TO KNOW: The spotlight entering the series was on the Hawks’ defensive challenge against 76ers center Joel Embiid. The Hawks are still struggling to contain Embiid. Even so, perhaps the biggest difference maker in the series was Young, who collected 39 points on Wednesday night, including 25 in the second half.
While Young made 17 of 19 free throws, Ben Simmons of Philadelphia made just 4 of 14 and only made 22 for 67 from the line this playoffs. Simmons’ glaring and unprecedented weakness made him an easy foul target during the Atlanta comebacks.
The Hawks have reason to be confident despite sharing their first two home games against the 76ers. The Hawks are 22-3 at home since February 21, including a 13-game winning streak.
– KEEP ONE ON: The Philadelphia Point Balance. Embiid scored 39 points and Curry had 36. No other 76ers player scored in the second half.
“These two guys were successful and that’s the attack we went over there,” said Harris.
Curry scored four of five goals in Philadelphia’s modest total in the last period. Simmons only attempted four shots from the field in the game, making two. Harris only managed 2 of 11 shots for just four points.
– SHOW OF INJURIES: Embiid, who spent time in the locker room in the first half of Game 4, played 39 minutes on Wednesday night. Her production again calmed fears that a tearing of the cartilage in her right knee could limit her effectiveness.
– THE PRESSURE IS ACTIVATED: The 76ers. A loss in the conference semifinals would be a huge disappointment for coach Doc Rivers and the 76ers. Simmons could face a long offseason if he can’t fix his free-throw problems.
Rivers has said he wants Simmons to stay aggressive and not hesitate to move towards the basket, even if these plays lead to free throws.
Rivers said he was not happy if Simmons stopped driving because of the pain. “But when you start to struggle with your free throws, you tend not to drive,” Rivers said.
Despite the back-to-back losses, the 76ers are favored by three points by FanDuel Sportsbook.
JAZZ AT CLIPPERS
Thu 6, 10 p.m. EDT, ESPN
– NEED TO KNOW: The Clippers show their talent for rallying in a series. They beat Dallas in seven games after falling behind in the series 2-0, then also lost the first two games to Utah.
George was in the spotlight, but the Clippers enjoyed a solid balance. Marcus Morris scored 25 points and Reggie Jackson added 22.
The Jazz are favored by two points by FanDuel Sportsbook. The line certainly reflects the loss of Leonard to the Clippers in Game 4.
– KEEP A SAFE: Terance Mann has to repeat his solid performance. Substituting Leonard, Mann made his career debut in a playoff game and tallied 13 points and two steals. He played 26 minutes.
– INJURY SURVEILLANCE: Leonard will be detained again. The team says he has a sprained knee. Its availability for a possible Game 7 remains unknown. Mike Conley (hamstring strained) missed his fifth straight game for the Jazz and was not ruled out.
– THE PRESSURE IS ON: The Jazz needs its leading scorer, Donovan Mitchell, to recover its exterior touch. Even with Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 32 points while making nine 3s, Utah still needed more attack as Mitchell only made 4 of 14 3s and only scored 21 points playing on a sore right ankle. He averaged 41 points in two wins to open the series, but lacked his usual explosiveness in the past three games as he was limited by the lingering injury.
The Jazz only scored six field goals in the third period and played behind the entire last quarter.
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