Hawks advance with 91-78 blowout
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.