MIAMI – That notion suggesting the Atlanta Hawks cannot win on the road at playoff time?

Forget it.

The Hawks put that one to rest – saving their season as well.

Zaza Pachulia – with a black right eye for his trouble – finished with 12 points and 18 rebounds, and Atlanta raced out to a huge first-half lead and frustrated Dwyane Wade endlessly in beating the Miami Heat 81-71 Monday night, tying the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series at two games apiece.

Mike Bibby scored 15 points, Joe Johnson added 14 and Josh Smith 13 for the Hawks.

Wade scored 22 points, doing so on 9-for-26 shooting and wincing at times from a back injury. Jermaine O’Neal scored 20 points and James Jones added 19 – 10 of them coming in a spectacular first-half spurt – for the Heat, who shot 38 percent and never led. It was Atlanta’s first road postseason win in nearly 12 years, a stretch spanning 13 games, and ended a slide where the Hawks had gotten pounded by a combined 132 points in their most recent five playoff games played outside Georgia’s capital city.

Now the series returns to Atlanta on Wednesday for Game 5, and all the Hawks need is to defend their home court twice to get a second-round shot against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Bibby’s 3-pointer with 4:57 left was the final dagger, giving the Hawks a 10-point lead and stopping Miami’s last real shot at a rally.

Knowing the Hawks would want no part of a 3-1 deficit, the Heat expected Atlanta’s best shot.

They got it.

Weren’t ready, either.

The Heat shot 5-for-23 in the first 21 minutes, digging a 21-point hole. At one point, Miami nearly had as many fouls (15) as points (19), Wade had four airballs (arguing he was fouled on two), and the Heat were unraveling. When Pachulia tipped in Flip Murray’s missed 3-pointer for a 44-23 lead, he looked at his teammates on the Atlanta bench and started punching the air.

Coincidentally, that’s when Miami started to fight.

A 19-2 run closed the half, with Jones needing only 41 seconds to get 10 points – the last eight coming in (probably) never-before-seen fashion, with a pair of four-point plays 11 seconds apart.

The Heat sharpshooter made a 3-pointer with 2:26 remaining, got fouled by Solomon Jones and swished the free throw. Miami immediately got the ball back when Bibby ran over Mario Chalmers, and with 2:15 left, James Jones struck again.

Nuggets 121, Hornets 63

NEW ORLEANS – Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets looked like the only ones having fun in this party town.

Anthony scored all of his 26 points in the first three quarters, and Denver thoroughly dismantled the New Orleans Hornets 121-63 on Monday night to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series. The New Orleans Arena was mostly empty by the end of the third quarter, when Denver led 89-50 on its way to matching the most lopsided victory in NBA playoff history. The Minneapolis Lakers beat the St. Louis Hawks 133-75 in 1956.

Looking twice as quick as the Hornets on both ends of the court, the Nuggets stifled Hornets All-Star Chris Paul, whose four points and six assists amounted to one of the worst games of his career.

The Nuggets can close out the series at home in Game 5 on Wednesday night. They will if they play as well as they did in Game 4, when they led by 20 early and by more than that most of the second half.

It was the first time Paul, who did not play in the fourth quarter, had ever scored fewer than 14 points in a playoff game. Denver held New Orleans to only 31.5 percent shooting and forced the Hornets into a franchise playoff-high 27 turnovers, which led to 41 Nuggets points.

David West was the Hornets’ high scorer with 14 points, while James Posey had 12.

Denver shot 57 percent (33-of-58) through the first three quarters, when Chauncey Billups scored all of his 17 points. Nene added 13 points and Dahntay Jones 12.

All the starters on both teams were done when the anticlimactic final period began. Denver reserve center Chris Andersen, let go by New Orleans after last season, had 11 points and eight rebounds. Linas Kleiza had 14 points and J.R. Smith 12.

Denver dominated early for the second straight game and this time didn’t let up. After West scored the game’s opening points, Kenyon Martin dunked on the other end, igniting a 27-6 run. Billups had nine points during that span, including a 3-pointer and tough mid-range pullup.

The Hornets opened 4-of-15 shooting (26.7 percent) before Posey’s 3 made it 27-11. Denver shot 70 percent in the first quarter, taking a 36-15 lead on Jones’ 3-pointer.

The torrid shooting continued into the second quarter, with Anthony scoring on acrobatic drives and quick pullup jumpers. Andersen added a dunk and even a 15-foot fade, putting the Nuggets up 46-22.

New Orleans’ frustration began to bubble over. Rasual Butler was called for a technical for pushing Anthony Carter after Carter fouled him on a fast break. The infuriated home crowd began to disparage the officials in unison while Anthony’s technical free throw made it 49-24.

The Hornets went without a field goal for a span of 7:48 in the second quarter, scoring only on free throws as Denver kept its lead around 20 points. Late in the period, Kleiza’s 3 made it 61-37.

Butler’s baseline jumper made it 61-39 at halftime, but the Nuggets came out of the locker room with no discernible letup in aggression. Nene’s inside basket as he was fouled sparked an 11-0 run that included back-to-back 3s by Anthony and Billups. Martin’s jumper made it 71-41 with 9:16 left in the period.

Notes: The Hornets’ previous worst playoff loss was by 32 points (96-64) to Atlanta in 1998, when the team was still in Charlotte. … Denver’s previous largest playoff victory margin was 30 (141-111) over San Antonio in 1985. … Double technicals were called twice in the first half, first on Paul and Martin and later on Posey and Anthony … The Hornets fell to 10-2 in their last 12 home playoff games.

AP-ES-04-27-09 2325EDT


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