- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2009

From combined dispatches

Hawks 91, Heat 78: The final blowout went to Atlanta, so the Hawks will 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 Miami on 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 centercourt that 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 at 85-66, and both teams cleared their benches in the closing minutes. 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.

The Heat are 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, the Hawks are 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.

Nuggets 109, Mavericks 95: Nene kept Denver in it until his teammates could turn this one into another runaway.

Nene scored 18 of his career playoff high 24 points in the first half, and the Nuggets raced past the Mavericks in Denver in the first day game in Pepsi Center’s 10-year history.

Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points, including a dunk off J.R. Smith’s behind-the-back assist that rocked the arena in the closing minutes. Smith added 15 points, leading a bench that outscored Dallas’ celebrated reserves 38-24 before both teams emptied their benches in the final minutes.

Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 28 points and 10 boards, and Josh Howard, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry each scored 15.

The Nuggets, who trailed by nine early, looked like they were going to pull away late in the third period when their defense led to several fast-break baskets and an 81-72 lead.

But Antoine Wright’s 26-foot 3-pointer to beat the shot clock jump-started the Mavericks, who pulled to 82-80 in the first minute of the fourth quarter when Terry sank a 3 and Nowitzki swished one of his fadeaway jumpers.

The Nuggets responded with a 15-4 run that iced it.

It began with two free throws and a bucket from Chris Andersen and two fouls shots and a jumper from Anthony that made it 90-82.

From there on, it was the brand of basketball the Nuggets have been playing all season, with Chauncey Billups leading the way at both ends of the floor, blocked shots leading to fastbreak baskets and 3-pointers that broke the Mavericks’ spirit.

The first half was as rough and tumble as both teams expected. Nowitzki, who scored 13 of the Mavericks’ first 17 points, was thrown to the floor by Kenyon Martin in the first quarter.

There were also some touch fouls whistled, two of them on Anthony, who took a seat midway through the second quarter after picking up his third foul.

The Nuggets did just fine without him, taking a 51-47 halftime lead thanks to Nene’s 18 first-half points, which tied his career playoff high for an entire game.

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