The Atlanta Hawks will be going to the second round of the postseason. The heavily favored Orlando Magic will be going home.
Joe Johnson had 23 points and grabbed 10 boards and Jamal Crawford added 17 to lead the Hawks to a series-clinching 84-81 win over the Magic in Game 6 on Thursday night at Philips Arena.
Kirk Hinrich had 11 points, before leaving with a strained right hamstring in the fourth quarter and Al Horford netted 10 points and grabbed 12 boards for Atlanta, which advances to the second round to take on the Chicago Bulls.
"They never give us a chance," Atlanta forward Josh Smith said of the upset. "They never talk about the Hawks. They talk about Orlando, Chicago, Boston and Miami. We're always sneaking under the radar."
The pundits once again prognosticated against the Hawks, with few picking Atlanta to pull of the upset in the series. You could understand why, Atlanta didn't exactly impress in the second round last year.
The last time these two teams met in the postseason, Orlando quickly swept them out of the playoffs by an NBA-record average of 25.3 points per game. Vegas installed them as underdogs in every game and the series, including the final one at home. And Orlando guard Jameer Nelson told Chicago's Derrick Rose that, he'd see him in the second round.
Unfortunately, for the Magic, they had to play the games on the court.
"When you lose to a team by an average of 25 points, what better redemption than to play against them in the first round (the next year)," Crawford said. "We were up to the challenge."
Once again, the underdog Hawks got the job done in a game that they were not favored to win. But that's happened a lot with this Atlanta team that is derisively underestimated by the national press. Installed as two-point underdogs again on their home court, and called "the Birdbrains" by a local Orlando columnist, the Hawks entered this one with a chip on their shoulders.
"We came in at practice and there were a whole bunch of papers on our chairs," said Smith, who was still steaming at Orlando columnist Mike Bianchi after the win. "We didn't understand what it was. Everybody started reading. You could see the expression on everybody.
"Calling us birdbrains and dummies. I think that got us going. That really got us questioning ourselves. We just wanted to shut the guy up. ... That along with Jameer telling Derrick Rose he'd see him in the second round."
Smith was amped up and ready to go, even mixing things up a bit with that Orlando reporter after the team's morning shootaround. Coach Larry Drew shrugged of his team's perceived lack of mental toughness. And by the end of it Smoove and his teammates showed that the Hawks -- "fragile" or not -- were good enough to pull off the upset and advance to the second round.
"A lot of talk is going on," Hawks center Zaza Pachulia said. "It's part of the playoffs. We got to put it behind us. One thing I know is they wanted to go to the second round and they got to think of vacation."
Of course, this Hawks team didn't make it look easy.
Atlanta lead by as many as 12 in the fourth quarter before Orlando chipped away, cutting the lead to 82-81 on Jameer Nelson's layup with 34.3 seconds left.
Marvin Williams missed a crucial 3-pointer down the stretch, but Johnson grabbed the rebound and dished it back to Crawford, who was fouled with 8.2 seconds left. Crawford nailed both free throws to seal the win.
J.J. Redick missed a wide-open 3-pointer and the Magic got the rebound, but Smith blocked Jason Richardson's 3-point attempt at the buzzer to win the game.
"Tonight, I told the team that this was our Game 7," Johnson said. "It's big we took care of our home court."
Atlanta got it done by sticking with its tried-and-true game plan. Front Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia on Dwight Howard and leave the other guys to guard Orlando's perimeter players. Atlanta had the size edge -- and with the exception of Game 5, where Orlando blew Atlanta out by 25 -- the trick worked.
The Magic reverted to form in Game 6, connecting on just 5-for-19 from beyond the arc as the Magic became pretty much a one-dimensional team that disproportionately relied on the former Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy star Howard.
Once again, it wasn't enough to pull Orlando to victory.
Howard had 25 points and Hedo Turkoglu added 15 for the Magic, which lost the battle of the boards 38-31.