ATLANTA (AP) _ The final blowout went to Atlanta, so it's the Hawks who'll get a shot at LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Joe Johnson scored 27 points to make up for a mostly disappointing series and the Hawks won the first Game 7 ever played in Atlanta, beating Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat 91-78 Sunday to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in a decade.
A series totally devoid of drama ended in appropriate fashion. After a back-and-forth first quarter that ended with Atlanta ahead 20-18, the Hawks pulled out to a 49-36 lead by halftime.
They might as well have started the celebration right then. There were only 15 lead changes in seven games _ not one of them after the opening period. Every game was decided by at least 10 points, and this one wasn't nearly as close as the final margin.
Johnson got off to a sluggish start but came alive when the Hawks needed him. His most dramatic shot was a long 3-pointer over Wade from out near Atlanta's winged logo at center court, which left the Miami star standing there with a look of disbelief.
The Hawks turned the contest into a laugher in the final quarter. Flip Murray hit a 3-pointer to give Atlanta its biggest lead, 85-66, and both teams cleared their benches in the closing minutes as Miami's reserves outplayed the home team's substitutions to make the end result somewhat respectable.
Things got ugly in the closing minutes while the Hawks fans chanted “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!'' Zaza Pachulia, who provided more quality minutes off the bench, drove to the hoop and was collared around the neck by Udonis Haslem. The Miami forward was tossed out of the game for a flagrant foul, while Atlanta coach Mike Woodson charged onto the court to make sure no punches were thrown.
The Hawks will need everyone for the Cavaliers, the top seed in the playoffs. Game 1 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.
The Heat is done, their finale epitomized by Haslem's inglorious exit. He ripped off his jersey on the way to the locker room, throwing it into the crowd before he disappeared down the tunnel.
Still, it was quite a comeback season for Wade and the Heat, who bounced back from a dismal 15-67 record to make the playoffs as the fifth seed in the East.
Wade scored 31 points but the majority of those came after the Hawks had already built a comfortable lead. Bothered by back spasms throughout the series, he didn't have enough help from his young teammates to get through to a matchup against James in the second round.
Instead, it's the Hawks moving on. Red and silver streamers fell from the roof of Philips Arena as the horn sounded, celebrating the team's first playoff series win since a five-game triumph over Detroit in 1999. That team was swept by New York in the next round and then drifted into irrelevance, enduring nine straight losing seasons before this year's 47-35 mark was good enough for home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
A year ago, the Hawks learned the benefits of playing Game 7 at home. After taking the eventual NBA champion Celtics to the limit, Atlanta was blown out in the decisive game at Boston. This time, the Hawks got to play at home, and the doled out the same treatment to Miami.
Mike Bibby might have been the Hawks most valuable player in the series. He scored 11 points, including a couple of 3s, and doled out six assists. He even stood up to Woodson when the coach complained about Josh Smith putting up an errant 3-pointer from the corner.
When Woodson called his point guard over, Bibby shot back with an expletive. “Y'all tell him to move,'' Bibby growled. Woodson simply turned away, rubbing his goattee and smiling slightly.
Smith played well despite the occasional gaffe, finishing with 21 points and, as usual, a couple of thunderous dunks that brought the less-than-sellout crowd to its feet.
Michael Beasley had 17 points and Haslem 14 _ the only other Miami players in double figures.
As if playing a Game 7 in Atlanta wasn't unusual enough, the
Hawks actually won one for the first time since 1961 _ when the
franchise was still in St. Louis. That Bob Pettit-led team defeated
the Los Angeles Lakers in the decisive contest before losing to
Boston in the finals.
Notes:@ Joey Crawford was part of the three-man officiating crew
for Game 7. About two miles away, his brother, Jerry, was the
first-base umpire for the Braves' game against the Houston Astros.
… A Miami fan sitting near the Atlanta bench was thrown out of
the game midway through the fourth quarter when he threw something
toward the court that whizzed past the head of Hawks media
Pictured above is Dwyane Wade.