April 29, 2016

BOSTON (AP) The Hawks overcame fifty years of sour playoff memories to get by a hobbled Boston team and into the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Their reward is rematch with King James.

The Hawks will see a Cleveland team that is rested and maybe even a little hungrier than it was last year when it swept Atlanta out of the Eastern Conference finals despite being at less than full strength.

It's a tall order, but one the Hawks are embracing and were even quietly hoping for.

''I think we're a better team from last year, I really do,'' Hawks guard Kyle Korver said. ''I think our identity is more on the defensive end than the offensive end this year. I think we know that we're gonna have to play really well to beat them. ''

The top seed in last year's playoffs, the Cavaliers lost Kevin Love to a dislocated left shoulder in the first round against Boston, only to see Kyrie Irving suffer a freak broken kneecap in Game 2 of the Finals.

So far this postseason, the Cavs haven't provided any hint of defect.

Cleveland swept a young Detroit team in the first round and will have had eight days of rest by the time it opens the second round on Monday.

There will be no such luxury for Atlanta, which will have just three days to prepare for the Cavs. Game 1 is set for Monday night.

The good news for the Hawks is they have found their touch from the outside over the last two games, connecting on 22 3-pointers.

Atlanta has also gotten better at expanding and then protecting big leads, something it had trouble with during the regular season.

In Thursday's close out win over Boston, Atlanta led by as many as 28 points thanks to a 39-point third quarter, which featured a pair of big runs to help it get separation.

It also earned the respect of the Celtics.

''I think we should give the Hawks credit. They're better right now,'' Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. ''It pains me to say that, it's a sour ending. But they just proved it over six games. That's just kind of how my world works. There's a scoreboard and if you're on the losing end then you're not as good as the other team.''

Here are some other takeaways from the Hawks closeout win over the Celtics to advance to Round 2:

STREAK STOPPERS: Atlanta enters the Cleveland series having put a stop to several postseason losing streaks against the Celtics with Thursday's win. The Hawks had been on the losing end of nine consecutive playoff series since the Finals win in 1958. Atlanta had dropped 10 consecutive postseason games in Boston since a loss in Game 5 of the 1988 East semifinals.

BRING ON THE CROWD: Coach Mike Budenholzer said he thought his team did a great job of dealing with the hostile TD Garden crowd on Thursday night. It will be good practice going into what is expected to be an equally raucous fan base in Cleveland. ''I think it's good for our guys to come in and win a game on the road,'' he said. ''We've always said you got to win on the road in the playoffs and this is a great environment. ... I think there's a lot of growth, a lot of positives from winning Game 6 on the road here.''

A NEW SEASON: Like most teams in the East, the Hawks have had limited success this season with this incarnation of the Cavs. Cleveland was 3-0 against the Hawks during the regular season. The closest game was an overtime win by the Cavs in their final regular-season meeting earlier this month in Atlanta.

WINNING RECIPE: Atlanta will have to show improvement across the board in order to have a chance at slowing down a Cleveland team that is 8-0 against the Hawks in the playoffs. Cleveland also swept Atlanta in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals.

''Our defense is going to have to be what it was in this series, if not better,'' Korver said. ''And our offense is going to have to be a lot better, I think. They're a great team. They have a lot of individual talent. It's a big challenge for us. ... We'll be ready to go on Monday.''

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

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