— Being tied after four games of the first round brought out the best in the Atlanta Hawks.
And as they showed in delivering a devastating third-quarter knockout, their best was better than anyone else in the Eastern Conference this season.
Paul Millsap had 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and the Hawks finally finished off the Brooklyn Nets in six games, advancing to the East semifinals with a 111-87 victory Friday night.
“We believe,” forward DeMarre Carroll said, “and we believe that when we are playing the right way, as you seen tonight, we can beat anybody.”
Kyle Korver added 20 points and hit three of his six three-pointers during a series-deciding run as the Hawks turned a six-point halftime lead into the only blowout of the series. The East’s No. 1 seed has a quick turnaround before facing Washington on Sunday in its second-round opener.
“We didn’t play that well the first three games. I didn’t think we had our edge,” Korver said. “I think coming here and losing two kind of woke of us.”
The Wizards, the No. 5 seed, swept Toronto in the first round.
Atlanta won the final two games and left no doubt about this one after beginning the second half with a 23-3 blitz that made it 74-48, opening as big a gap on the scoreboard as there was between the teams in the standings. The Hawks were 60-22 in the regular season and the Nets were only 38-44 as the last team to qualify for the postseason, but Atlanta had outscored Brooklyn by just nine points through the first five games.
The Nets looked as if they would keep this one close after recovering from the Hawks’ strong start, but Atlanta wouldn’t let that happen.
Brook Lopez scored 19 points for the Nets, who had saved first-round elimination with Game 6 victories in each of the last two years. But a lethargic start to the third quarter ended any hopes of taking the series back to Atlanta on Sunday.
“We wanted to make the playoffs. We did, and we thought we put up a great effort against this team that’s the best in the East,” Nets guard Deron Williams said.
Williams had two turnovers that started Atlanta fast breaks in the opening minutes of the third as the Hawks started with an 8-0 spurt that made it 59-45. Williams then made a 3-pointer, but the Hawks ripped off the next 15 points, opening a 26-point bulge midway through the period.
“You could just see they had the wave of momentum that they weren’t going to let up,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said.
The Hawks won the East so handily after building a big cushion with their 17-0 January that they were able to give their starters plenty of rest down the stretch, though that contributed to them not clicking when the playoffs started.
A Nets team they beat four times by an average of 17.3 points during the regular season kept the first two games close and won the next two. But Atlanta pulled away late in Game 5 and came out clicking Friday.
Korver made three 3-pointers in the first quarter and Carroll added two, including one with 1.4 seconds left that made it 36-23. The Hawks shot 13 of 18 in the period (72%), went five of seven from three-point range and looked like the team that ran such precision offense for most of the season.