Smith's late stuff helps Hawks to third straight playoff appearance

ATLANTA -- Josh Smith would have preferred that Joe Johnson make the shot.

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 watching."

The Hawks may have benefited from having used all their timeouts before Carter made his game-tying shot from at least 3 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 farther 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."

Game notes
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.