By Marcia Peters

The Sixers 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.

Sixers star Joel Embiid played the first 11 minutes, 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.

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.

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.