CHARLES KRUPA / AP Enlarge
Celtics blast Hawks
BOSTON - Kevin Garnett took a behind-the-back pass from Paul Pierce, slammed in the dunk to make the lead three dozen points and then slashed his hand across his throat to signal what the Atlanta Hawks already knew.
"It's over," he told the crowd.
The game. The series. The surprising little scare Atlanta put into the NBA's best.
Garnett had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Pierce scored 22 points, and the Celtics turned back the pesky Hawks with a 99-65 victory yesterday in Game 7 of their playoff series to advance to the second round.
Next up: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with Game 1 tomorrow night.
"They're a group that's defending Eastern Conference champs," Garnett said. "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."
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.
Rajon Rondo, who missed a potential game-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.
Boston went 66-16 for the league's best record - 29 games better than the young Hawks team that earned the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The home-court advantage proved pivotal against an upstart team that fed off its own crowd but wilted on the road, losing four times by a total of 101 points.
"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. I knew we were going to take care of business."
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 in the third quarter 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. "He knows the type of person I am. It was a physical series, but I have no bad blood with Rondo."
Lakers 109, Jazz 98
LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant had 38 points, six rebounds and seven assists, and the Lakers made it five straight playoff wins by beating Utah to begin the second round.
Bryant scored 24 points to help the Lakers take a 54-41 halftime lead, and although they were on top the rest of the way, there were some anxious moments down the stretch.
Pau Gasol added 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, Lamar Odom had 16 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 45 seconds to play, and Sasha Vujacic scored 15 for the Lakers.
Mehmet Okur had 21 points and a career playoff-high 19 rebounds for the Jazz, which lost despite outrebounding the Lakers 58-41. Carlos Boozer had 15 points, 14 rebounds and four assists before fouling out with 3:28 left, and Deron Williams added 14 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.34.05349 -118.2453