ATLANTA — Josh Smith swooped in to slam through Joe Johnson's missed shot just ahead of the buzzer and the Atlanta Hawks finally beat the Orlando Magic, clinching a third straight trip to the playoffs with an 86-84 victory Wednesday night.
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 straight game.
After Vince Carter hit a long 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds left to tie it at 84, the Hawks 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 a slam just before the red light went on. The officials checked the replay just to be sure — it showed Smith dunking it with 0.01 seconds remaining.
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 Dwight Howard chipped in with another monster performance: 19 points and a season-high 24 rebounds. Johnson led six Atlanta players in double figures with 17 points, while Smith chipped in with 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 31/2-game deficit with only 10 games remaining.
Still, it was a moment to savor for Hawks sixth man Jamal Crawford, who 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.
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.
But 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.
The home team closed to gap to 22-16 by the end of the opening quarter, tied it for the first time since the opening tip when Maurice Evans' 3-pointer made it 26-all, then grabbed their first lead on another 3, this one by Mike Bibby for a 43-40 lead.
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. Rookie Jeff Teague serenaded his coach with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" during the morning shootaround. Woodson gave it a poor review: "He can't sing." ... Atlanta C Zaza Pachulia picked up four fouls in the first 11/2 minutes of the fourth quarter trying to guard Howard.