ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Hawks lingered on the court, savoring the cheers as red and silver streamers drifted down from the rafters.This celebration was a decade in the making. It won't last more than 24 hours.
King James is waiting.
The Hawks won a playoff series for the first time since 1999, getting a clutch performance from Joe Johnson and solid contributions from most everyone around him, knocking out Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat with a 91-78 victory in Game 7 Sunday.
Josh Smith, who contributed 21 points and nine rebounds to Johnson's 27-point effort, is the lone player remaining from a team that went 13-69 four years ago - the nadir in a stretch of nine straight losing seasons for the Hawks.
"It feel like the monkey's off Atlanta's back," Smith said. "Not just the team's back. The whole city."
Having eliminated the NBA's leading scorer, the Hawks now must face the favorite for MVP. LeBron James would be quite a handful by himself, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are a much more talented team than the one led by Wade, who often seemed like the only player on the court for the Heat.
Atlanta opens the second round on the road Tuesday night.
"Now we have to start focusing on Cleveland," coach Mike Woodson said. "I haven't given much thought to it, being so into Miami, but we will start that soon."
Smith, for one, is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's going to be very tough. The crowd is going to be very hostile. We have to go up there ready to play," he said. "But I'm very confident. You can't be passive. You've got to be aggressive."
As if the top-seeded Cavaliers needed any extra advantage, they've been resting for more than a week since eliminating Detroit in a four-game sweep. The Hawks, on the other hand, had to tough it out through a series that went the distance but produced very little drama.
No game was closer than 10 points. There wasn't a lead change after the first quarter in any of them. The clincher pretty much stuck to the party line, the Hawks pulling away to a 13-point lead at halftime and stretching the margin as high as 29 points in the final period.
Blanketed by two and sometimes three defenders, Johnson had endured a largely disappointing series and got off to another sluggish start, missing his first five shots. But he came through when the Hawks needed him most, suddenly finding his range from beyond the 3-point arc.
The one that really got him going came early in the second quarter. Johnson pulled up near the tip of the winged Hawks logo at center court - a good 7 to 8 feet short of the stripe - and let it go.
"I was just trying to be more aggressive," said Johnson, who finished 6-of-8 outside the arc. "I haven't put up a 3 that long in a while. I said, 'Forget it,' and just launched it. Making that got me into a little rhythm."
The startled Wade looked off toward the stands in disbelief, as if he couldn't believe Johnson actually shot it from so far out, much less made it.
"When Joe is hitting 40-foot 3s," Wade said, "it's one of those nights."
The Miami star 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 star-powered matchup against James - his Olympic teammate - in the second round.
Still, it was quite a comeback year for Wade and the Heat, which bounced back from a dismal 15-67 record to make the playoffs as the fifth seed in the East.
"I'm very encouraged by this season," Wade said. "We've got something to build on."
Mike Bibby might have been the Hawks' most valuable player in the series, averaging just under 15 points and five assists. He even stood up to Woodson when the coach complained about Smith putting up an errant 3-pointer from the corner.
When Woodson called his point guard over, Bibby shot back with an expletive. "Y'all tell him to move," Bibby growled. Woodson simply turned away, rubbing his goatee and smiling slightly.
Everyone was smiling at the end. Even Woodson and Smith, who've endured their share of dustups over the years.
"We've had a lot of ups and downs, boy, but I still wouldn't give him away for anything," Woodson said. "He's probably caught more hell from me than anybody on this team. I respect him for that."
Nuggets 109, Mavericks 95
At Denver, Nene scored 18 of his career playoff-high 24 points in the first half and the Nuggets won the first day game in the 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.
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 28 points and 10 boards and Josh Howard, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry each scored 15.
Game 2 is Tuesday night.