Salmons outduels Johnson as late FTs lift Bucks over Hawks

MILWAUKEE -- John Salmons simply would not let the Milwaukee Bucks lose.

Salmons scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and made the tiebreaking free throws with 21.8 seconds remaining, leading the Bucks to a come-from-behind 98-95 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night in a matchup of possible first-round opponents.

"He played his normal game, but then he got hot and he carried us," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said.

Salmons, whom Milwaukee acquired from the Chicago Bulls in February, and Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson went back and forth down the stretch until Salmons put the game away for Milwaukee.

Since Salmons' arrival, he has averaged 19.2 points and the Bucks are 15-2 with him in the lineup.

"It's just one of those things," Salmons said of his big fourth quarter. "Everything you shoot goes in."

Salmons said playing well against Atlanta was important, as it appears likely the teams will meet in the playoffs.

"I think we had a sense of urgency," he said. "We knew that this was an important game for us. We know we need to win as many games as possible to gain as much momentum as we can going into the playoffs."

Bucks center Andrew Bogut said the team ran the same play "10 or 15" straight times for Salmons in the fourth quarter.

"He got us back in the game and then took it over," Bogut said. "Jumpers, drives, free throws, whatever he put up in that quarter it was going in. They couldn't really stop him and we couldn't stop Johnson for a while."

Salmons scored nine straight points midway through the final quarter, including a jumper that gave the Bucks an 89-86 lead with 6:50 left.

The Hawks fought back to tie it at 93 when Johnson hit a jumper with 2 minutes remaining. After a shot clock violation against the Bucks, Johnson hit a step back jumper near the top of the key over Salmons to give the Hawks a 95-93 lead.

Salmons was fouled on a drive to the basket and hit two free throws to tie it at 95.

Johnson missed a shot with 45 seconds remaining. Luke Ridnour then missed, but grabbed his own rebound. Salmons was fouled by Johnson and hit both free throws to give the Bucks a 97-95 lead.

Johnson held the ball for the last shot, but missed as he drove the lane. Ridnour grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He hit one of two free throws and Crawford missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Skiles put Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute, known for his defense, into the game in the last minute to guard Johnson.

"It's tough [as] he's got all the tricks with the way he was scoring," Mbah a Moute said. "We just tried to make it tough for him, make him take tough shots and I did that."

The Bucks won for the 14th time in 16 games and lowered their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to seven -- any combination of Bucks victories and Chicago losses totaling seven means Milwaukee will play in the postseason for the first time since 2006.

Carlos Delfino scored 23 points for the Bucks.

Johnson scored 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Hawks. Jamal Crawford had 21.

Johnson said the Hawks' defense let the team down in the fourth quarter.

"Defensively, it's as if we lost sight of what our principle was coming down the stretch," he said. "We just couldn't get stops. That's not like us."

Crawford said the loss wouldn't mean much if the two teams end up meeting in the first round of the playoffs.

"They're playing great basketball right now and we're also playing pretty well," he said. "But the playoffs are a long ways off."

Game notes
Milwaukee's 24 home wins are the team's highest total since going 25-16 at the Bradley Center in 2005-06. Andrew Bogut's second-quarter block gave him 34 consecutive games with a block shot, the longest current streak in the NBA.