Posted May 3 2010 6:58AM
ATLANTA -- If the Hawks needed any reminders about their prize for winning Game 7 of their Eastern Conference first round series, Philips Arena public address announcer Ryan Cameron gave them a blistering reminder as the final seconds ticked off the clock Sunday afternoon.
"We're going to Disney World," he shouted to the sellout crowd on hand to see the Hawks finish off the Milwaukee Bucks with a 95-74 defensive masterpiece.
After years of sniffing around the Orlando Magic in the Southeast Division, the Hawks will finally get a chance to test themselves against the Eastern Conference champions in the playoffs.
A date in the conference semifinals, even one in the shadow of Disney World, is no vacation. Not that the Hawks needed reminding or anything. They were a part of the only true seven-game series in the first round, needing every second to beat back a scrappy Bucks team.
And if they thought veteran Bucks center Kurt Thomas was a load inside, wait until they get good playoff look at Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard, who will have rested for eight days between sweeping Charlotte in the first round and hosting the Hawks in Game 1 Tuesday night.
"We're going to see how [Hawks coach Mike Woodson] wants us to play him in practice and hopefully that works," Hawks forward Josh Smith said of his pal since pre-school and former AAU teammate, who finished ahead of him for Defensive Player of the Year. "If not, we'll have a plan B and a plan C. Dwight's a beast and a well-rested beast."
The Hawks will show up in Orlando wearing the ultimate playoff lesson on their bodies. Just as no one gave the Bucks a chance to beat them without their starting center Andrew Bogut, few people will give the Hawks a chance of doing anything more than annoying the Magic.
Howard didn't even play particularly well in the first round and the Magic still rolled. "We have to play Orlando the way Milwaukee played us," Hawks forward Marvin Williams said. "They didn't care what anybody said and they came in and scrapped every possession of every game. And that's what we have to do. I think this will be good for us. Everybody knows Orlando is a great team and this be our biggest test of the season."
The Bucks gave the Hawks plenty to sweat about after taking a 3-2 lead with a stunning Game 5 win at Philips, a game the Hawks led by nine points with four minutes left before melting down in the final and most crucial moments.
But just like they have all season, the Hawks bowed up and snatched control back in Game 6, winning on the road in the playoffs for just the second time in the last three years. And they owned Game 7, controlling the action from opening tip to final buzzer behind the energy of Williams and Al Horford inside early and the sweet shooting of Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford throughout the game.
The Hawks certainly converted celebrated Bucks rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, who had his way with them through five games of the series.
"We gave them all we could," Jennings said. "I think we surprised a lot of people. We didn't have our best player on the court and we still took this series the distance. We played against a great team. They have two of the best scorers in the league in Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Hopefully, we didn't tire them out too much so they can move on to Orlando. Because it's going to be a great series."
If the Hawks play defense as well as they did to finish off the Bucks, things could get very interesting.
They were as good on defense in the second half of Game 6 and throughout Game 7 as they have been all season. "I know that's what wins basketball games and as we move forward we've got to stay consistent in terms of how we defend and rebound," Woodson said. "The last two games, the only way we get out of this series is we defend. We did that in Milwaukee, holding them to 69 points and they shot 32 percent [in Game 6] and then tonight we held to them to 74 points [and 33 percent]. So it was our defense that came through for us to end this series."
The Magic, of course, pose far more problems for the Hawks than the Bucks ever could, even with a healthy Bogut. They won three of the four games they played against the Hawks during the season and can attack from inside and out.
"I don't think that gives them an edge," said Hawks center Al Horford, who averaged 15.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks against the Bucks. "We're confident. I think we've figured out if we play hard defensively we always give ourselves a chance to win games. And we just have to come out and match their intensity. They have a lot of good shooters, they have Dwight inside. It's going to be a challenge ... but we're excited."
Who wouldn't be?
After all, the Hawks are going to Disney World.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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