It worked out fine for the Atlanta Hawks.
Smith swooped in to dunk Johnson’s miss just
ahead of the buzzer as the Hawks pulled out another close one, finally
beating the Orlando Magic 86-84 Wednesday night to clinch a third
straight trip to the playoffs.
The Hawks bounced back from an early 15-2
deficit and overcame going 8:45 in the fourth quarter without a field
goal against a division rival that had routed them three times this
season. For Atlanta, it came down to the final shot of regulation for
the fifth game in a row.
“I knew it was close,” Smith said. “I just
crashed it. I looked and the ball was there. Joe’s a good shooter, and I
knew it wouldn’t be much off.”
After Vince Carter hit a long 3-pointer with
9.9 seconds left to tie it at 84, the Hawks — out of timeouts — rushed
down the court to set up Johnson for the potential winning shot. He
drove the baseline and put up a one-hander, which bounced off the far
side of the rim.
But the Magic failed to block out Smith, who
soared through the air for the slam just before the red light went on.
The officials checked the replay to be sure — it clearly showed him
dunking with 0.01 seconds remaining.
“I knew (Johnson) was going to shoot the
basketball,” Smith said. “He’s made some big shots for us. I was hoping
he would make this one. But I had his back.”
Smith blew past Rashard Lewis and dunked over
Dwight Howard, who had a season-high 24 rebounds but wasn’t there at the
end because he came out to help defensively against Johnson.
“On the weak side, we just stood and watched,”
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The guys on the court are doing the
same thing the guys on the bench are doing: just standing there
The Hawks may have benefited from having used
all their timeouts before Carter made his game-tying shot from at least three
feet beyond the arc.
“I think it was pretty good we didn’t have a
timeout,” Smith said. “They were kind of discombobulated on defense.
They didn’t know who to guard, and I was able to get the rebound.”
The teams combined for only nine baskets in
the final period, with Atlanta enduring a drought that didn’t end until
Smith hit a baseline jumper with 1:38 remaining and the shot clock
running down. Orlando, after hitting six of its first 10 shots, finished
27-of-72 for a dismal 38 percent.
Carter led Orlando with 20 points, while
Howard chipped in with another monster performance: 19 points and his
domination of the boards. Johnson led six Atlanta players in double
figures with 17 points, while Smith scored 15.
Atlanta thought it had wrapped up a
long-expected trip to the postseason with an overtime victory against
San Antonio on Sunday night. Then, an extremely remote scenario was
discovered that could have kept the Hawks out: a possible four-way tie
for the final three spots, with Atlanta losing on a tiebreaker.
But everyone knew it was just a matter of
time. Besides, the Hawks have bigger goals than just making the
playoffs, such as getting further than they did a year ago, when
Cleveland swept them in the second round.
Atlanta had hoped to make a run at Orlando for
the Southeast Division title, but the Hawks will have to make up a 3
1/2-game deficit with only 10 games remaining. They remained tied with
Boston for third seed in the East.
Hawks sixth man Jamal Crawford will be heading
to the playoffs for the first time in his decade-long career. He came
into the night having played 666 games without making it to the
postseason, the third-longest drought in NBA history.
“I finally got it,” Crawford said, breaking
into a big smile.
Orlando had dominated the season series,
winning the first three meetings by an average of more than 23 points.
It looked like more of the same when the Magic raced out to a 15-2 lead.
The Hawks missed 11 of their first 12 shots and were outrebounded 11-2
during that span.
“It’s good for our confidence to know we can
actually beat this team,” Smith said. “They have the best center in the
game. They have outstanding shooters. But we were able to play ’em full
court every minute.”
Howard picked up his second foul less than 10
minutes into the game with Orlando leading 20-10, knocking over Crawford
while trying to set a pick out beyond the foul line. With the big man
on the bench, the Hawks quickly made up ground.
When Howard was on the court, the Hawks came
at him with one defender after another — and often more than one. Backup
center Zaza Pachulia picked up four fouls in the first 1 1/2 minutes of
the fourth quarter trying to guard Orlando’s massive center.
“You don’t want him shooting layups,” Pachulia
said. “I’d rather him shoot free throws.”
Atlanta coach Mike Woodson celebrated his 52nd birthday. His wife gave
him a cigar case, and his office was filled with balloons before the
game. … Orlando’s Mickael Pietrus aggravated a sprained left ankle and
played only nine minutes. … Atlanta snapped a six-game losing streak
against the Magic dating back to the opener of the 2008-09 season.