ATLANTA – The Atlanta Hawks went the distance in a series that was much tougher than anyone expected.
They can only hope the Orlando Magic will be a little rusty in the next round of the playoffs.
By the time the Eastern Conference semifinals begin Tuesday night, the Magic will have been sitting around for eight days, having wasted no time sweeping Charlotte in their opening-round series.
The Hawks, on the other hand, needed a gutty Game 6 win in Milwaukee just to keep their season alive, then finished off the Bucks with a 95-74 rout in the deciding game Sunday.
Atlanta will make the short flight to Orlando on Monday, having only two days to prepare for an opponent that beat the Hawks by six games in the Southeast Division standings and three of four times they met during the regular season.
Nevertheless, Jamal Crawford can see a good side to jumping right into another best-of-seven series against a well-rested opponent.
"It's tough when you're off a while," said Crawford, who scored 22 points to lead the Hawks past Milwaukee. "We have a nice rhythm going right now."
Indeed, the third-seeded Hawks fully expect to put up more of a fight against No. 2 Orlando than they did a year ago in the second round, when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers ended Atlanta's season with a four-game sweep.
"It's a good matchup both ways," Hawks star Joe Johnson said. "But we've got to be more hungry and determined to get over the hump. We can't just beat this team based on talent. We've got to play harder."
They could get away with less than 100 percent against the Bucks, whose hopes of a playoff upset were essentially undone with about two weeks to go in the regular season when Andrew Bogut tumbled to the court and ripped apart his right arm.
Bogut watched the playoffs with a large cast on his right hand, his season over.
Orlando, led by defensive player of the year Dwight Howard, has no such limitations. The Magic routed Atlanta three times by an average margin of more than 23 points before losing the final regular-season meeting on Josh Smith's game-winning dunk just ahead of the buzzer.
The Hawks have no one who can guard Howard one-on-one, so they'll have to give center Al Horford plenty of help at the defensive end.
"Hopefully, we'll come up with something that works," Smith said. "If that doesn't work, we'll go to Plan B. If that doesn't work, we'll go to Plan C. He's a beast, and he's a well-rested beast, too."
Atlanta wasn't able to rest against Milwaukee until the closing minutes of Game 7. Coach Mike Woodson began pulling his starters so they could be acknowledged by the sellout crowd of 19,241 — a striking contrast to the fifth game, when the Hawks squandered a nine-point lead in the final four minutes, giving Milwaukee a 3-2 lead in the series.
The Bucks failed to close out Atlanta on their home court, which was essentially their last chance. No way the Hawks were losing again at Philips Arena.
Horford sparked the Hawks with his hustle at both ends of the court, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Crawford, appearing in the playoffs for the first time in his 10-year career, struggled for much of the series but closed it out with two strong performances off the bench, finally looking like the player who won the NBA's Sixth Man Award. Smith and Mike Bibby added 15 points apiece, while Marvin Williams chipped in with nine rebounds.
The Hawks finished with a dominating 55-34 edge on the boards and didn't even need much from their best player. Johnson was held to 8 points on 4 of 14 shooting.
Milwaukee simply didn't have enough weapons to cope with an Atlanta team that was fired up and ready to give its best, not with Bogut watching from the bench and Michael Redd also sidelined by a season-ending injury.
The Bucks made less than a third of their shots (28 of 86), were blocked eight times and, clearly rattled, threw up at least three airballs. Rookie Brandon Jennings led the way with just 15 points, and he needed 18 shots to score that many.
"I think we were missing one piece, and that was Bogut," Jennings said. "I wanted to walk out sad, but I had to keep my head up because we were down a couple players. We did the best we could.
"We showed a lot of people that the Milwaukee Bucks can actually hang in this league."
Indeed, the Bucks have a solid nucleus to build on their first playoff appearance since 2006 with Jennings, Bogut and John Salmons.
"We made it a tough series," said Carlos Delfino, who had his moments for the Bucks but made only 1 of 8 shots in the season finale. "To go seven games, I think we did pretty good."