The thank-you notes can be addressed to 150 Causeway Street in Boston, the home of the Celtics. As the Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals by disposing of the Heat 91-78 in Game 7 on Sunday (
"When we left, it was a sick taste in everybody's mouth," Woodson said. "But the guys were eager to get back, and we worked to get the homecourt advantage; and now we have a chance to finish it."
While the Hawks did not necessarily put together a Game 7 rout like the Celtics did last year in Round 1, they were in control and never let the Heat breathe.
After the game, Woodson again credited the Celtics for "teaching us how to play playoff basketball," and launching a year-long quest to gain homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs and advance.
"I am so proud of these guys," Woodson said. "Sometimes when you set goals, they don't always come true, but theirs came true in the sense that we made the playoffs and were able to host a first-round series. It couldn't happen in a better way to have Game 7 at home and win it."
This bizarre series, which featured dueling blowouts, had yet another one in store for the less-than-capacity crowd at Phillips Arena. Both coaches seem to sense whoever got out to a lead was not coming back, as five timeouts were spent in the first half. The Hawks led by two at the end of the first quarter, then made sure there would be no more lead changes by dominating in the second. Consecutive threes by
It was clear the Heat missed
"It is a monkey off my back," said Smith, who scored 21 points. "I remember the sour taste from the Celtics series, and I remember winning just 13 games my first year. We wanted to write a different story this year."
The Hawks stretched the lead to 29 in the fourth quarter before things became a bit testy.
Not that it mattered to the Hawks, who reached the second round for the first time since 1999 and won a seven-game series for the first time since 1970. Waiting in the second round are
"Cleveland is going to present a major challenge for us," Pachulia said. "We just have to go in with an aggressive mindset."
With all the credit Woodson handed to last year's Celtics teaching his team invaluable playoff lessons, there is one more he can point out -- the team that sent LeBron and the Cavs home last year was none other than the Celtics.
Pachulia sparked a 17-4 run in the second quarter with one of his typical hustle plays. Pachulia ended up on his back in the lane after securing an offensive rebound and kept a Hawks possession alive, which resulted in a Flip Murray three-pointer. The play drew roars and launched a run that eventually pushed the Hawks out in front 41-26.
The Game 7 win was the first for the franchise since April 1, 1961, when the St. Louis Hawks defeated the Lakers 105-103.
Spirit the Hawk, Atlanta's live mascot, returned after its Game 2 adventure. The hawk was not allowed to fly from the upper deck to its handler at floor level, however. Spirit was strapped to its handler's arm and was walked once across the court prior to the Hawks' introductions.
Atlanta travels to Cleveland for Game 1 on Tuesday. Even though the Hawks were extended to seven games -- while the Cavs won in four -- fatigue should not be a factor given the youth of the Hawks, the number of off-days in the first round and the blowout nature of all seven games. The Cavs won the season series 3-1 with James averaging 26.3 points per game. The Hawks just played seven games against an MVP-caliber player in Wade, but Cleveland's supporting cast for James will present a stiffer challenge.