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After using their home-court advantage to the fullest, the Boston Celtics get no respite.
Next up following their seven-game survival against the Atlanta Hawks will be LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"They're a group that's defending Eastern Conference champs,'' Kevin Garnett said Sunday, after a 99-65 rout of the Hawks sent Boston into the second round of the playoffs. "To do anything, you've got to go through them. It's good that we have home-court advantage. I think it should be a good series.''
Yes, it's good for the Celtics to have the extra home game considering how badly they fared at Atlanta in a strange opening-round matchup. Boston had the best record in the league and Atlanta the worst among playoff qualifiers, yet the Celtics lost all three times on the Hawks' court.
Boston went 66-16, 29 wins better than the young Hawks. If not for the comforts of home, who knows where the Celtics might be this week?
But they're getting ready to welcome the Cavs, who ousted Washington in the opening round. Paul Pierce was certain the Celtics wouldn't be going home for the summer.
"I really had no doubt in my mind how we were going to come out,'' Pierce said. "You kind of saw it from the guys after Game 6 on the plane, there wasn't a lot of talking. We knew that we let a couple of games get away in Atlanta and I knew we were just going to take care of business.''
Garnett had 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Pierce scored 22 points.
Game 1 of the next series is Tuesday night.
"We all know the history of the Boston Celtics,'' James said. "They've been unbelievable to the history of the NBA and this year it was good to see them back at the top, or close to the top. I haven't played there in the postseason yet, so it's going to be fun.
"You look at them on TV and you see highlights of (Larry) Bird. You see highlights of (Kevin) McHale and all those guys who won championships over and over and over.''
Bird and McHale weren't needed Sunday. In fact, the Celtics started the celebration early, holding the Hawks to 10 points in the second quarter and doubling their 18-point halftime lead in the third.
The fans yelled "We want Cleveland!''
The public address announcer explained how to buy tickets for the second round.
And, in the background, the new Boston Garden shook with Gladys Knight and the Pips singing that the Hawks were "Leaving on a Midnight Train'' to Georgia.
"I wish we could have played all of our games in Atlanta,'' said Hawks coach Mike Woodson, whose team never came close to stealing one in Boston. "Nobody thought we had an opportunity to even win a game in this series. We battled them right to the end.''
Rajon Rondo, who missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the Game 6 loss that forced the series back to Boston, had 10 points and six assists, taking his lumps on a key play. Kendrick Perkins had 10 points and 10 rebounds before joining the rest of the starters on the bench in the formality of a fourth quarter, just like the Celtics did for much of the regular season.
The skirmishes of the first six games boiled over with 9:09 left in the third quarter, with Boston already leading 51-28, when Rondo got the ball on a breakaway and had only Marvin Williams to beat.
The Hawks forward put an arm across his chest and took Rondo to the floor, where he lay for a few minutes while Celtics coaches and teammates checked on him. The officials immediately signaled a Flagrant 2 foul and, after reviewing the play, threw Williams out of the game.
"I saw it on TV and it did look pretty bad, so I can't argue that at all. I just want Rondo to know that I would never try to hurt him,'' said Williams, who called Rondo a friend since high school. "It was a physical series, but I have no bad blood with Rondo.''
Boston coach Doc Rivers also vouched for Williams. "Two good kids playing hard,'' he said.
Woodson said it was just the latest in a series full of hard fouls, but he conceded that making the Celtics angry probably wasn't the best approach.
"This series has been so hard-fought, guys' bodies all over the floor,'' the Hawks coach said. "It probably did energize them some. But I don't think that was the difference in the ballgame. We struggled right from the start.''
Rondo hit both free throws, the Celtics got the ball and Ray Allen, who hadn't made a basket since the first quarter, drained a 3-pointer to make it a 28-point game.
Then came showtime.
The Celtics brought out some fakes and behind-the-back passes straight out of the Harlem Globetrotters. Rondo found Garnett underneath for an emphatic dunk _ and the menacing gesture that will surely earn Garnett a fine from the league office _ with 3:05 left in the third.
A minute later, he got his payback, knocking Zaza Pachulia to the floor on a backcourt pick. Rivers, who earned his first playoff series coaching victory, took Garnett out of the game; he wasn't needed.
With 10:44 left, Pierce and Rondo joined him on the bench. Pierce, who was fined for what the league called a "menacing gesture'' in Game 3, was the only Celtics starter to play more than 30 minutes. Leon Powe was the third-leading scorer, with 12 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes.
This program aired on May 5, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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