Just when Hawks fans started to think NBA basketball was played for 5 quarters, Josh Smith decided enough was enoough and closed the Highlight Factory right on schedule, Wednesday night with a thunderous dunk. Tied at 84, Joe Johnson missed a running jump shot with the clock winding down only for Josh Smith to come sprinting towards the basket, go airborne and flushed a one handed put back with .1 seconds remaining. The dunk was so close to the buzzer, officials reviewed the play for about a minute, before confirming it counted before the buzzer.
On the tip in dunk, Josh Smith explained, "I knew it was close. I just crashed it [the boards] and and luckily the ball was right there for me to tip in."
Dwight, Howard, a force in the middle all night, was only able to watch helplessly as he abandoned his position in the paint to defend Joe Johnson's shot attempt.
Magic head coach, Stan Van Gundy shared that sentiment. "On the weak side, we just stood and watched." The guys on the court are doing the same thing the guys on the bench are doing: just standing there watching."
The Hawks who came in hoping to avoid a 4 game sweep at the hands of Orlando started the game flat and fell behind big in the early going. By the time the Hawks woke from their 1 for 12 shooting slump, up the Magic had jumped ahead to a 15-2 lead.
"We would most certainly like to put teams away for good." Al Horford remarked on the recent string of close games. And that's something we just have to learn from, because the playoffs are coming up fast on us.
Orlando led decisively until foul trouble for Dwight Howard forced Van Gundy to bench Howard, who grabbed 9 first quarter rebounds, while the Magic led by the score of 10 to 20. Howard's absence left the Hawks with a walkway to the rim, Orlando's presence on the boards disappeared and the Hawks went on a 13-4 run into the second quarter.
It became clear midway through the 3rd that the Magic wouldn't run away with this this one. In fact, Orlando trailed from the moment Mike Bibby drained a 3 pointer to put the Hawks up 3 with under a minute remaining before halftime.
The Hawks appeared well on their way to securing the victory with a 78-69 lead with just under 5 minutes to go. However, the momentum soon swung dramatically in Orlando's favor as a series of reckless turnovers by the Hawks breathed life into the Magic's faltering offense. Joe Johnson hit four crucial free throws to keep the Magic 3 points back but with 23 seconds to go, Vince Carter calmly nailed a fadeaway three from the top of the key to even the score at 84 with 9.9 seconds left.
Joe Johnson led the Hawks in scoring but it was a balanced team effort for Atlanta which finished with 6 players in double figures. Maurice Evans led the scoring charge early with 10 first half points but didn't score or attempt a single field goal attempt in the second half. Orlando's Dwight Howard recorded 19 points and 24 rebounds to give the Atlanta native, his league leading 56th double double.
Orlando which possesses the league's top field goal defense, held the Hawks to 40.8% shooting from the field but couldn't find a spark on their own offensively, mustering a paltry 37.8% field goal percentage.
Josh Smith's buzzer beating dunk put the cap on a wild week of basketball for the Hawks who have gone 3-1 in overtime games, through the span of a week and lost by 3 to Milwaukee on the road in regulation. Not only did the slam give the Hawks the win, it also clinched a third consective playoff berth for the Hawks as well, who entered the game tied with the Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference's 3rd Seed. However, Jamal Crawford who has yet to frequent the playoffs in his 9 year career, chose not to don his black "Clinched" playoff t-shirt, which still hangs in his locker.
The win, improved the Hawks record to 46-25 and brought them 3.5 games behind the Magic for the 2nd seed with just 13 games to go.