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 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 Hawks with a 99-65 victory Sunday in Game 7 of their playoff series to advance to the second round.
Next up are LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a series that starts Tuesday night.
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.
"I wish we could have played all of our games in Atlanta," said coach Mike Woodson, whose team won all three home games but never came close to stealing one in Boston. "Nobody thought we had an opportunity to even win a game in this series.
"We battled them right to the end. We just didn't have it today."
Rajon Rondo, who missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the Game 6 loss, had 10 points and six assists for the Celtics. Kendrick Perkins added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
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.
"We knew that we let a couple of games get away in Atlanta, and I knew we were just going to take care of business," Pierce said.
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 and had only Marvin Williams to beat.
The Hawks forward put an arm across Rondo's chest and took him 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 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."
Woodson said it was just the latest in a series full of hard fouls, but he conceded that making the Celtics angry probably wasn't the best approach.
"This series has been so hard-fought, guys' bodies all over the floor," the Hawks coach said. "It probably did energize them some. But I don't think that was the difference in the ballgame. We struggled right from the start."
FEWEST POINTS SCORED BY A TEAM IN A PLAYOFF GAME
The Hawks, 2-8 in seventh games, came close to the record for fewest points since the shot clock was introduced:
54 x-Utah at Chicago (96), June 7, 1998
56 New Jersey at Detroit (78), May 3, 2004
61 Cleveland at Detroit (79), May 21, 2006
63 New Orleans at Miami (93), April 21, 2004
63 Toronto at Detroit (85), April 21, 2002
63 Portland vs. San Antonio (85), June 4, 1999
63 Atlanta at Detroit (79), May 12, 1999
64 Detroit at New Jersey (82), May 9, 2004
64 Detroit at Boston (66), May 10, 2002
64 Utah at San Antonio (86), May 9, 1998
64 Charlotte at Atlanta (96), April 28, 1998
64 Orlando at Miami (99), April 24, 1997
64 Portland at Utah (102), May 5, 1996
65 ATLANTA AT BOSTON (99), MAY 4, 2008
65 Indiana at Detroit (69), June 1, 2004
65 Indiana vs. Detroit (83), May 30, 2004
65 Phoenix at L.A. Lakers (87), May 16, 2000 x - NBA Finals
CELTICS VS. HAWKS
CELTICS WIN SERIES, 4-3
GAME 1: Boston 104, Atlanta 81
GAME 2: Boston 96, Atlanta 77
GAME 3: Atlanta 102, Boston 93
GAME 4: Atlanta 97, Boston 92
GAME 5: Boston 110, Atlanta 85
GAME 6: Atlanta 103, Boston 100
GAME 7: Boston 99, Atlanta 65