The Hawks have known for a week that if they could get past Miami they'd face Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals.Now that it's a reality, they can turn their attention to the Cavaliers full time. And Josh Smith insists the Cavs' 3-1 edge in the regular-season series means little now.
"The talent Cleveland has on their team is outstanding," Smith said, "from LeBron (James) and the rest of that starting five and all the way down their bench. They've got outside shooters and multiple guys that can work off the dribble and great energy from their bigs inside and then big (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and Anderson Varejao holding it down.
"You have to be ready for everything with them. We just have to be ready to play. Because the postseason is a different animal from the regular season, so you really can't judge anything from what went on in the past."
With the Heat taking up so much of the Hawks' time the past two weeks, Hawks coach Mike Woodson hadn't given a ton of thought to the Cavaliers. Or at least that's what he was trying to get everyone to believe Sunday night.
"Now we have to start focusing in on Cleveland," Woodson said. "We'll watch the tapes and start breaking down film."
It won't take long for the Hawks to figure out that they're playing the league's best team and arguably its best player in LeBron James.
But before they moved on to the next gigantic hurdle on their playoff odyssey, the Hawks spent a few minutes enjoying their time Sunday night.
"These are the days you live for," said Smith, who pounded the Heat for 21 points and a team-high nine rebounds in their Game 7 win. "To see where we've come from to where we are now is crazy. And this isn't some Cinderella story. We've worked for every bit of this. We earned the right to be here. And now we're moving on to the next round."
HAWKS 91, HEAT 78: These are the moments Joe Johnson dreamed about when the Hawks were struggling to 26 wins in his first season with the team.
Johnson torched the Miami Heat for 27 points and led his team to a 91-78 blowout win over in Game 7 as the Hawks won a playoff series for the first time since 1999.
The Hawks won their first seven-game series in 39 years as Johnson woke up from a series-long slumber to carry them into the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cleveland. That series begins Tuesday night in Cleveland.
"This is what it looked like in my head," Johnson said of the visions he had of helping resurrect a franchise that was an afterthought when he showed up four years ago on the heels of a 13-69 season. "The packed house, the fans going nuts and us playing in meaningful games. This is a special feeling, to be out there in a game like this and knowing that we're moving on to the next round."
The Hawks are moving on because of the offensive and defensive showcase Johnson and his teammates put on against the Heat Sunday. They led by as many as 29 points in a game that was decided early in the fourth quarter.
Johnson outplayed Heat superstar Dwyane Wade and his teammate followed suit, wearing the Heat out on both ends of the floor in the seventh straight blowout in the series.
Johnson finished with a team-high 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. He made six of his eight shots from beyond the 3-point line, including two over Wade in a 45-second stretch in the second quarter that allowed the Hawks to turn a back-and-forth affair into yet another rout.
"They got hot," Wade said. "They got their star, Joe, to hit 40-foot 3-pointers. And when that happens it's a tough night."
Johnson did more than that, though. He also had five rebounds and five steals, two while guarding Wade one-on-one in a mathcup of All-Stars that had been one-sided, in Wade's favor, in every game until Sunday.
"He's the foundation of our team," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said of Johnson, a three-time All-Star. "We've built around Joe Johnson and here he is now in his fourth year now, going into the second round of the playoffs, and that speaks volumes for Joe Johnson."