John Bazemore, Associated Press
ATLANTA — A new season. A much different result. The Atlanta Hawks are moving on in the playoffs, knocking out the team that beat them so badly a year ago.
Joe Johnson scored 23 points and came up with a huge offensive rebound, leading Atlanta past Orlando 84-81 in Game 6 Thursday night to finish off the Magic in the opening round.
The Hawks, who won the series 4-2, advanced to the second round for the third straight year, this time against the top-seeded Bulls. Game 1 is Monday night in Chicago.
What a difference a year makes. In 2010, the Magic routed the Hawks in four straight games, winning by an average of more than 25 points. It was the most lopsided sweep in NBA playoff history.
"What better redemption than to play them again?" said Jamal Crawford, who hit two big free throws after Johnson swatted him the ball. "We were up to the challenge."
Orlando heads into an uncertain offseason after its earliest playoff ouster since 2007. Who knows what the future holds for the Magic's best player, Dwight Howard?
The big man can become a free agent after next season but may be angling to get out earlier, now that the Magic appear to be heading in the wrong direction. Orlando made the final two years ago, the conference finals last season.
"Let's not even talk about it. There's no need to bring it up," Howard said. "Right now, I'll figure out how can I get myself better for next season, not figure out what team I want to play for. But right now I'm with the Magic. So all the speculation can stop. There's no need to talk about it."
As if the Hawks needed any additional motivation, Magic guard Jameer Nelson provided it. After a close loss to Chicago at the end of the regular season, Nelson whispered to Bulls star Derrick Rose, "See you in the second round."
A TV microphone picked it up.
Everyone in Atlanta was clearly listening.
"They never give us a chance," Josh Smith said. "They never talk about the Hawks. They talk about Orlando, Chicago, Boston and Miami. We're always sneaking under the radar."
With Atlanta clinging to a one-point lead and the clock running down, Marvin Williams missed a clinching 3-pointer. But Johnson swatted the ball to Crawford, who was fouled and made both free throws with 8.2 seconds left.
"I just wanted to make a play," said Johnson, who bounced back from a dismal 5-point effort in Game 5. "The play was a pick-and-roll for Al (Horford) and Jamal, but we didn't come up with what we wanted. I just crashed the glass and tried to somehow get a hand on it. I did."
The Magic had two chances to force overtime. J.J. Redick missed an open 3, then Jason Richardson had a desperation shot from the corner blocked by Smith.
"A team that fights as hard as our guys did, and I couldn't get them over the hump to win this series, that really is disappointing to me and the job that I did as a coach," Orlando's Stan Van Gundy said, choking up a bit. "I'm just disappointed not to be able to get my team over the hump."
Redick came off a screen for a clear view of the basket, a play that couldn't have been drawn up any better. The shot rimmed out, though it went out of bounds off an Atlanta player to provide the Magic with one more shot. After his team called another timeout, Redick walked to the bench with his hands on his head.
That would be their last chance to extend the series. Orlando inbounded from the baseline to Richardson, but he didn't have much room to work in the corner. Smith extended a hand to finish off the Magic.
Hedo Turkoglu kicked the ball off the scoreboard hanging above the court in frustration as streamers fell from the ceiling, the sellout crowd celebrating the series winner.
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