ATLANTA (WNCN) — Not only are the Atlanta Hawks headed to the Eastern Conference Finals after a Game 7 road victory over the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, but interim head coach Nate McMillan has also joined an exclusive club in terms of NBA history.
McMillan joined Los Angeles Clippers head coach Ty Lue and former Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley as the only three coaches in the last 40 years to join a team midseason and take them to the Conference Finals.
The Raleigh native and N.C. State grad whose jersey hangs in the rafters of PNC Arena will look to guide the Hawks to its first NBA championship since the team moved to Atlanta in 1968. The St. Louis Hawks won its only NBA championship in 1958.
The Hawks had previously been 0-9 in Game 7s on the road.
A valiant effort from the young backcourt of Trae Young and Kevin Huerter powered the Hawks to a win over a 76ers team that many believed would cruise to the conference finals before the series began.
“I felt like they were built for this moment tonight to win this game,” McMillan said after Sunday’s game.
Under McMillan, the Hawks turned into birds of prey and Young led a charge into the postseason for the first time since 2017 that kept rolling with a first-round win over New York.
It’s doesn’t look to be smart to bet against these Hawks, who will play in their first East finals since 2015 against the Milwaukee Bucks, another team that many are already counting them out against.
Young had a bad shooting night by his standards but made very timely shots, including a near 40-foot three-pointer in the late stages of the game.
Defensive stops on the other end, which included forward Danillo Gallinari ripping Sixers big man Joel Embiid and then slamming it on the other end when the Sixers desperately needed a bucket pretty much sealed Philly’s fate.
The Hawks and McMillan will look to continue to shock much of the basketball world when they take on two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, who themselves got to the conference finals via a seventh game victory.
Despite a few marquee names being ousted as head coaches of other teams, many hope the Hawks drop the “interim” tag from McMillan’s job title and keep him for the future as it is bright for a very young squad.