ATLANTA – A new season. A much different result. The Atlanta Hawks are moving on in the playoffs, knocking out the team that beat them so badly a year ago.
Joe Johnson scored 23 points and came up with a huge offensive rebound, leading Atlanta past Orlando 84-81 in Game 6 Thursday night to finish off the Magic in the opening round.
The Hawks, who won the series 4-2, advanced to the second round for the third straight year, this time against the top-seeded Bulls. Game 1 is Monday night in Chicago.
What a difference a year makes. In 2010, the Magic routed the Hawks in four straight games, winning by an average of more than 25 points. It was the most lopsided sweep in NBA playoff history.
"What better redemption than to play them again?" said Jamal Crawford, who hit two big free throws after Johnson swatted him the ball. "We were up to the challenge."
Orlando heads into an uncertain offseason after its earliest playoff ouster since 2007. Who knows what the future holds for the Magic's best player, Dwight Howard?
The big man can become a free agent after next season but may be angling to get out earlier, now that the Magic appear to be heading in the wrong direction. Orlando made the final two years ago, the conference finals last season.
"Let's not even talk about it. There's no need to bring it up," Howard said. "Right now, I'll figure out how can I get myself better for next season, not figure out what team I want to play for. But right now I'm with the Magic. So all the speculation can stop. There's no need to talk about it."
As if the Hawks needed any additional motivation, Magic guard Jameer Nelson provided it. After a close loss to Chicago at the end of the regular season, Nelson whispered to Bulls star Derrick Rose, "See you in the second round."
A TV microphone picked it up.
Everyone in Atlanta was clearly listening.
"They never give us a chance," Josh Smith said. "They never talk about the Hawks. They talk about Orlando, Chicago, Boston and Miami. We're always sneaking under the radar."
With Atlanta clinging to a one-point lead and the clock running down, Marvin Williams missed a clinching 3-pointer. But Johnson swatted the ball to Crawford, who was fouled and made both free throws with 8.2 seconds left.
"I just wanted to make a play," said Johnson, who bounced back from a dismal 5-point effort in Game 5. "The play was a pick-and-roll for Al (Horford) and Jamal, but we didn't come up with what we wanted. I just crashed the glass and tried to somehow get a hand on it. I did."
The Magic had two chances to force overtime. J.J. Redick missed an open 3, then Jason Richardson had a desperation shot from the corner blocked by Smith.
"A team that fights as hard as our guys did, and I couldn't get them over the hump to win this series, that really is disappointing to me and the job that I did as a coach," Orlando's Stan Van Gundy said, choking up a bit. "I'm just disappointed not to be able to get my team over the hump."
Redick came off a screen for a clear view of the basket, a play that couldn't have been drawn up any better. The shot rimmed out, though it went out of bounds off an Atlanta player to provide the Magic with one more shot. After his team called another timeout, Redick walked to the bench with his hands on his head.
That would be their last chance to extend the series. Orlando inbounded from the baseline to Richardson, but he didn't have much room to work in the corner. Smith extended a hand to finish off the Magic.
Hedo Turkoglu kicked the ball off the scoreboard hanging above the court in frustration as streamers fell from the ceiling, the sellout crowd celebrating the series winner.
The Magic was beaten off the glass 38-31, giving up 14 boards at the offensive end.
"The biggest thing was the rebounding," Van Gundy said. "It's sort of fitting we couldn't get a rebound on the last stop."
After not having much of an impact in Orlando's 25-point, series-extending win in Game 5, Howard led the Magic with 25 points and 15 rebounds. But, falling into a familiar pattern from the first four games, he didn't get much help from his teammates.
Turkoglu had 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Nelson was the only other Orlando player in double figures with 11.
Crawford scored 19 points, including consecutive 3s that gave Atlanta its biggest lead, 71-59, with just over 9 minutes left. The Magic fought back with an 8-0 spurt, and Ryan Anderson had a chance to give the Magic their first lead since the opening minutes with an open look from outside the stripe.
He missed, and the Magic never caught up with Atlanta after playing from behind nearly the entire game. Williams gave Atlanta's struggling offense a boost with 10 points, hitting a couple of big 3s.
Kirk Hinrich scored on a drive with just over 3 minutes to go, somehow getting the shot over Howard. But the Atlanta guard went up so high, he came down awkwardly on his right knee. He struggled back down the court, but collapsed after Gilbert Arenas was clobbered on a drive to the basket.
Hinrich was carried to the locker room, his arms draped around two Atlanta trainers so he didn't put any pressure on his leg. The Hawks said he had a strained hamstring and would undergo an MRI on Friday to determine to extent of the injury.
The Hawks were up 42-36 at halftime, but the lead should have been a lot bigger. Smith was 3 of 12 shooting with three turnovers. Crawford hit only 3 of 11, Johnson just 4 of 12. The home finished just 39 percent from the field (31 of 79).
"It wasn't perfect. It wasn't pretty," Horford said. "But we just willed ourselves to victory. Sometimes you have to do that."
Atlanta certainly worked much harder at the defensive end, especially around the arc. After giving up 11 3-pointers in Game 5, they held the Magic to just 5 of 19 from long range.
Things got rough in the third quarter, the desperation apparent for both teams. Orlando was trying to keep its season going. The Hawks had no desire to return to Florida for a decisive Game 7.
Turkoglu was whistled for a flagrant foul when he wrapped up Zaza Pachulia before he could get off a shot under the hoop. On the ensuing possession, Howard had the ball in close and was hacked by Pachulia, who received a flagrant violation as well.
Notes: Hinrich kept dropping back to double-team Howard in the first half, stripping the ball away twice and tying him up another time, setting up quite a mismatch on the jump ball. Howard is 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds — 7 inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than Hinrich. The Atlanta guard didn't even bother jumping, and Howard tipped the ball to an Atlanta player. ... The Hawks won seven out of 10 against the Magic this season. ... Orlando hasn't been sent home this early since a four-game sweep by Detroit in the opening round in 2007.