PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Trae Young put an early smackdown on Philly and again rose to the occasion in the playoffs for a Hawks team that wasted no time grabbing control of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Young scored 25 of his 35 points in the first half as Atlanta shook off Joel Embiid and a hostile crowd and held on to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 128-124 Sunday in Game 1.
Embiid raised a sledgehammer as he returned from a one-game absence with a cartilage tear in his right knee. He walked out with WWE star Triple H to a roaring ovation.
Young and the Hawks had the Sixers down for the count from the jump.
The Sixers' rally came too late as they pulled within three with 1:01 left on consecutive baskets from Embiid. Atlanta's Bogdan Bogdanovic put his fingers to his lips and shushed the raucous crowd when he hit a 3 that sealed the win.
Going off as five-point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Hawks made 14 of their first 18 shots from the floor and were the aggressors eagerly seizing their moment on national television. Young, much like he did in five games against the Knicks when he averaged 29.2 points, thrived in the spotlight. For all the focus on Embiid, All-Star Ben Simmons and the top-seeded Sixers, Young was the can’t-miss player in Game 1 — as in, he rarely did with the ball, and all eyes were on him.
The Hawks used a 17-0 run in the first half that quickly made it a rout and Young was there shaking, saluting and toying with the Sixers and the crowd. Young bowed during the clincher to the New York crowd that had jeered him in every game. He stuck a pose in Philly — he held his right arm high and pointed toward the basket for several seconds that followed a 27-footer he buried to close the first half.
Danny Green could not hang as the primary defender on Young instead of Simmons, an NBA defensive player of the year candidate.
The 6-foot-1 Young led the Hawks to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and has craved the pressure that comes with playing big postseason games in bigger cities.
One Knicks fan spit on Young during the first-round series. In Philly, he heard “Trae is balding! Trae is balding!” chants that dimmed with each 3-pointer — he hit four 3s and had 10 assists. He waved off fans with a 3 in the third quarter that cut off a small Sixers run.
Embiid answered the will he-or-won’t he play question when he walked out for pregame introductions in matching T-shirts with the star wrestler — Triple H's D-Generation X faction was Embiid’s favorite — and had the crowd going wild as he held the sledgehammer high over his head.
Embiid did his part with 39 points. Tobias Harris had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Simmons scored 17 points and again struggled from the free-throw line, going 3 for 10.
Embiid grimaced at times and hit the floor hard when he lunged at John Collins and fouled him.
Bogdanovic and Collins each scored 21 points for the Hawks.
Game 2 is Tuesday in Philadelphia.
The Sixers made easy work Washington in five games and with home court throughout the East playoffs, a potential date with Brooklyn seemed in the cards. Sixers fans chanted “We want Brooklyn” as they wrapped a Game 5 win last week.
But they forgot about Trae.
Just 14-20 when the Hawks fired coach Lloyd Pierce on March 1, the Hawks are 33-12 since. They had the best record in the East after Nate McMillan took over, and Young said he isn’t satisfied with just one series victory.
The Sixers made them work for it in a furious fourth — but the Hawks held on and gave Atlanta sports fans something to feel good about on Sunday.
Hawks: F De’Andre Hunter sat out with a sore right knee. ... Young became the second player in NBA history to score 30 points in each of his first four career playoff road games. He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the 1970 Milwaukee Bucks. ... The Hawks scored a franchise playoff high for points in any half (74) and their 13 3-pointers in the first were a team record for a playoff half.
76ers: Were an awful 24 of 35 from the free-throw line. ... Missed 19 of 29 3-pointers.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Dan Gelston, The Associated Press