Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena. Here is my updated game story, with quotes, from tonight’s regular-season finale win over the Mavericks. The schedule for the playoff series with the Celtics is at the bottom.
The Hawks acted fast.
With home-court advantage in the playoffs within their grasp, they wasted little time in grabbing the postseason edge. Thanks to a fast and furious first quarter the Hawks will open their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Celtics at Philips Arena Sunday. Game time is 7 p.m.
The Hawks led by as many as 23 points in the first quarter and disposed of the defending NBA champion Mavericks 106-89 on Thursday night in the regular-season finale.
There was no need to scoreboard-watch the Celtics-Bucks game. The Hawks knew if they took care of their own business, it wouldn’t matter what was happened in Boston.
“We showed a lot of determination tonight,” Joe Johnson said. “I could see that hunger before the tip coming into the locker room. We knew we had to play desperate to get a win and get off to a good start. As the starters, we put it on ourselves to set the tone early and we did that.”
That they did.
The Hawks (40-26, 23-10 home) enter the playoffs having won five of their final six regular-season games. They snapped a three-game losing streak to the Mavericks.
The Mavericks (36-30) enter the Western Conference playoffs as the seventh seed and will begin a first-round playoff series against the Thunder on Saturday.
There were no inspirational speeches despite the importance of the game.
“Just look each other in the eye, kind of gave a nod and we all knew it was time to get it tonight,” Willie Green said. “We’ve got to lock this up right now.”
Smith did much of the early damage for the Hawks. He finished with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds, one rebound shy of his 29th double-double this season. The Hawks had five other double-digit scorers: Jeff Teague (17), Joe Johnson (15), Kirk Hinrich (12), Willie Green (11) and Ivan Johnson (10).
“We came out like a team on a mission tonight,” Smith said. “The ball was going in tonight, bottom line. Everybody had a good shooting percentage. We were making the right play, cutting, passing, running our sets. It’s easy when you are sharing the basketball.”
The Hawks came flying out of the gate and built the 23-point first-quarter lead, 36-13. The used a 13-0 run early in the quarter and didn’t let up. They ended the first 12 minutes with a 38-21 lead as they shot 69.6 percent (16-for-23) from the field. Seven different players made the scoring column, led by Smith with 12 points.
The Mavericks, by stark contrast, struggled from the field. They shot just 33.3 percent (7-for-21) from the field.
“I was a little concerned that we would come out and play with that energy, but clearly those first six minutes we came ready to play tonight,” coach Larry Drew said.
The Hawks led by 16 points, 60-44, at the end of the first half. By then, they had nine different scorers, led by Smith with 16 points and Johnson with 11.
The Mavericks got within 11 points, early in the third quarter, but the Hawks never let their wide margin get below double-digits.
The Hawks can now rest — at home — before opening their fifth consecutive postseason. This will be their time to rest, a luxury the Celtics took last week.
The Celtics won two of the three meetings with the Hawks this season. They won the first two meetings by a combined five points. The Hawks won last week’s final game, while the Celtics played without five of their top seven scorers.
“We did end the season with a good bang but all that is wiped out,” Smith said. “It’s a clean slate. We are playing against an experienced team in Boston that knows how to get wins, especially down the stretch. We just have to focus on what we can do to minus the margin of error against this team.”
With four minutes remaining, the Philips Arena crowd began the “We Want Boston” chant. Drew said he did hear it, but several of the players were well aware.
“This Boston team is a veteran team,” Drew said. “They are used to playing on the road. They are comfortable playing on the road. They have all the confidence in the world on the road. … Now that we have home-court advantage, it’s up to us to hold on to it. It won’t be easy. We worked our behinds off to get it and we have to keep it.”
Boston will be in town Sunday.
Game 1: Sunday, Boston at Atlanta, 7 p.m. TNT
Game 2: Tuesday, Boston at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. NBA TV
Game 3: Friday, Atlanta at Boston, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
Game 4: May 6, Atlanta at Boston, 7:00 p.m. TNT
Game 5 *: May 8, Boston at Atlanta, TBD
Game 6 *: May 10, Atlanta at Boston, TBD
Game 7 *: May 12, Boston at Atlanta, TBD
* – If necessary