NBA: Magic finish off sweep of Hawks 98-84
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — Ever since they lost in the NBA Finals, the Orlando Magic have been determined to get back — and, this time, win it all.
Two series down, two to go.
Vince Carter scored 22 points to lead another dominating performance by the Magic, which finished off its second straight playoff sweep with a 98-84 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
Orlando won the four games by an average of 25.3 points — a total blowout that no one could have expected in a matchup between the teams that finished second and third in the Eastern Conference. It was the most lopsided four-game sweep in NBA playoff history, according to STATS LLC.
"Guys are just focused. It's unbelievable to see," Carter said. "This is my opportunity for a championship."
The Magic, who lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in last year's NBA Finals, are playing better than anyone at the most important time of the season. They have won 14 in a row, the last eight in the playoffs, and 28 of 31.
"We would have to be playing at our absolute, absolute best — like, mistake free — to beat that team," said Jamal Crawford, who led Atlanta with 18 points. "That team is a great team. They have as good a chance as any to win a championship."
The Magic are off to the Eastern Conference finals for the second year in a row. They will face either Boston or a rematch with Cleveland, the team they upset for last year's conference title before losing to the Lakers.
Orlando barely broke a sweat against the Hawks, and Game 4 was more of the same. Atlanta held Dwight Howard to 13 points and eight rebounds, but the Magic had plenty of other options.
"We're playing for something bigger than ourselves, and we've got to do it together," Howard said.
Jameer Nelson was unstoppable, baffling the Hawks with his now-you-see-him, now-you-don't quickness. He finished with 16 points and nine assists. Rashard Lewis scored 17 points, knocking down four 3-pointers. Mickael Pietrus scored 12 points — all of them from beyond the arc.
As a team, Orlando was 16 of 37 from 3-point range, taking more long-range shots than two-pointers (28). Overall, the Magic shot 55 percent from the field and never trailed during either game in Atlanta.
"I think our guys pretty well bring it every night," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "If we're better than you, we're going to win most of the time."
Hawks star Joe Johnson finished off a miserable series by scoring only 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting. He was booed by the home crowd at the start of the game and got the same treatment when he went to the bench with 3:51 to play. The fans were still miffed that he said didn't care if they "showed up or not" after they heckled the team in a 30-point loss on Saturday.
"It doesn't bother me, man," said Johnson, who's last shot was a 25-foot airball as the shot clock ran down. "I've got thick skin. I've been booed louder than that."
Orlando didn't stand pat after losing to the Lakers, trading for Carter in hopes that he would be the final piece needed for a title. So far, so good. The Magic blew through Charlotte in the opening round, then thoroughly dominated the team that finished just behind them in the East.
Atlanta ended the third quarter with a bit of momentum, having sliced a 17-point deficit down to 75-66. Orlando quickly put an end to any thought of a comeback.
Zaza Pachulia picked up two quick fouls trying to guard Howard, then Lewis got open for a 3-pointer. Johnson misfired on a funky, one-handed shot in the lane, and Carter buried a 19-foot jumper with Josh Smith right in his face for an 80-66 lead.
The Hawks called a timeout, but it didn't matter.
They were done.
This might have been the last game in Atlanta for Johnson and coach Mike Woodson.
Johnson turned down a contract extension before the season to join what could be the greatest free-agent class in NBA history. Woodson's contract is up, and management hardly gave him a rousing vote of confidence by refusing to even talk about a new deal until after the season.
Johnson sure didn't help his bargaining position with the way he finished the season. Over his last seven playoff games, he averaged 13.4 points a game on 32 percent shooting.
NOTES: Orlando became the third team in the past six years to sweep its first two best-of-seven series, joining Miami (2005) and Cleveland (2009). ... The Magic have defeated the Hawks in 10 of their last 11 meetings. ... Smith, who ranked third in the NBA with 2.14 blocks a game during the regular season, had only two blocks in the entire series against the Magic.