BOSTON – The Atlanta Hawks had their best regular season in franchise history spoiled last year by a dismal showing against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
They will get another shot at the Cavs in the second round of this year’s NBA playoffs.
Paul Millsap had 17 points and eight rebounds, and the Hawks advanced to the second round with a 104-92 Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
Al Horford and Kent Bazemore each added 15 points for the Hawks, who earned their first playoff series win over Boston since the St. Louis Hawks beat the Celtics in the 1958 Finals.
“Good to finally beat them,” said Hawks point guard Jeff Teague. “It feels good.”
The Hawks open the second round on Monday at Cleveland.
The Celtics’ last three playoff appearances have ended in first-round exits.
Coming off a 27-point win in Game 5, the Hawks took advantage of poor shooting by Boston on Thursday, leading by as many as 28 points.
Atlanta blew the game open with a 39-point third quarter in which it shot 74 percent from the field.
“I think we learned from before with this team that no lead is safe,” Horford said. “To start the third it was important for us to get off to a good start and just keep attacking and have that mentality of keep attacking play after play.
“I felt we did that consistently in the third and that was the big difference.”
The Celtics shot just 36 percent for the game. They made a final charge to get as close as 10 points, but Atlanta was able to close it out.
Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 25 points and 10 assists, but most of that came in the second half during the comeback effort after being bottled up early.
“We just wore them down,” Teague said. “We tried to make other players beat us. He (Thomas) is a one-man wrecking crew. They have other good players over there, but everybody feeds off him.”
Jae Crowder added 15 points for Boston, but it wasn’t enough to turn around the second straight game underlined by the team’s inconsistencies.
For most of the game, the Hawks simply benefited from Boston’s struggles.
The Celtics played most of the second half with Crowder battling foul trouble.
He went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with 11:21 left in third quarter. Coach Brad Stevens rolled dice and re-inserted him, only for Crowder to be called for his fifth foul with 8:13 to play.
Crowder fouled out with three minutes left.
But most of the damage was done much earlier.
There was lots of energy inside TD Garden from the home fans at tipoff, and Boston did a decent job of matching it on the defensive end, forcing four early turnovers.
The offensive end was another story. The Celtics started game by connecting on just four of their first 18 field goal attempts.
It allowed the Hawks to get a little separation with Boston managing only four points in the first six minutes of second quarter.
“I think we should give the Hawks credit. They’re better right now,” Stevens said. “It pains me to say that, it’s a sour ending. But they just proved it over six games. That’s just kind of how my world works. There’s a scoreboard and if you’re on the losing end then you’re not as good as the other team.”