Raptors
Hawks
120 - 127 Final - OT
  for this game

Johnson, Bibby help Hawks win fifth straight

Apr 3, 2008 - 3:24 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) - The red-hot Atlanta Hawks took one giant step toward their first return to the postseason in nine years.

Joe Johnson poured in 28 points and dished out 11 assists and Mike Bibby added 26 and 12 as the soaring Hawks rallied from a 17-pont third quarter deficit to defeat the Toronto Raptors, 127-120, in overtime on Wednesday.

Josh Smith tallied 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and Marvin Williams added 15 for Atlanta (35-40), which moved four games ahead of the Indiana Pacers (31-44) and New Jersey Nets (31-44) in the race for the eighth final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We're trying to make the playoffs, and you can see it from tonight's game," Smith said. "We were able to play our hearts off in the second half. We were able to get out to the shooters and play with a bunch of confidence."

The Hawks, who have not made playoffs this side of the millennium, seemed to make up for lost time.

Atlanta responded with a furious fourth-quarter comeback, cutting the lead from double-digits to three to put the club in position to send the game to overtime.

Trailing, 107-104, with under 12 seconds to play, Johnson and Bibby each had looks at the 3-point line, but missed their chance to tie before the ball went out of bounds off a Toronto player.

Given a third chance, the Hawks did not miss.

Bibby launched a 3-pointer over the Raptors T.J. Ford from the left wing with five-tenths of a second remaining to knot the contest.

"It felt good, but it was a little hard," Bibby said of the shot. "(Josh) Childress made a nice pass."

But Atlanta almost didn't let this one get into overtime as Ford somehow got open on the inbounds pass for the backdoor layup, collecting what appeared to be a stunning game-winning basket.

However, the call was overturned by head official Mark Wunderlich upon video review as replays showed that the 6-foot Ford released the ball a split-second after time expired.

"They ran it perfect," Smith said. "We were just hoping that it wasn't good. And thankfully, it wasn't."

The same video replays also revealed that the clock may have started before Ford, who has not fared well at Philips Arena, touched the ball.

The snakebitten Ford, who was seriously injured after a collision with Al Horford in his last appearance here on December 11, was also robbed of a bucket in Atlanta due to a scoring error last season.

"I guess we threw everybody off guard with that one," Ford said. "I thought my shot in regulation was good, but I didn't see the replay, so I'm not sure. However, we should never been in this situation."

Toronto, which failed to file a formal protest when Ford was not credited with the bucket that may have altered the outcome of a 97-93 Raptors loss on November 24, 2006, may protest this one.

If filed, it would be the second protest filed in a contest involving the Hawks this season.

Atlanta was required to replay the final 51.9 seconds of overtime of its December 19 game against the lowly Heat after the league upheld Miami's protest that Atlanta's official scorer erroneously assessed a sixth foul to Shaquille O'Neal.

However, it is unlikely that Atlanta's scorer was at fault in this one.

More likely than not, the clock was started by referee Eric Lewis, who was the trailing official on the play or one of the other members of the officiating crew of Wunderlich, Jack Nies and Lewis. While team officials at the scoring table may start the clock, they generally do so in last second situations only if one of the officials fails to do so.

After the drama of Ford's last second bid, the extra session was just a formality.

Toronto had led by one with just over a minute to play but buoyed by 3-pointers from Bibby and Smith, Atlanta closed out the frame with an easy 11-2 run to march toward their postseason goal.

"I feel a lot older today after this one," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "But it was fun. It's a playoff atmosphere."

Smith, who was shooting 24 percent from behind the arc entering this one, drained two crucial 3-pointers in the bonus session.

"It feels good," Smith said. "I'm not a good 3-point shooter like that, but if it's coming to me, I'll take them."

Toronto seemingly took control of the game with a 20-8 third quarter run capped by a seven-foot jumper by Rasho Nesterovic to give Toronto a 91-74 lead with 1:10 remaining in the frame.

But the resilient Hawks battled right back into this one, with an 18-6 tilt in the fourth. Bibby poured in eight and Johnson added five in the spurt as the Hawks cut the lead to 101-98 with 6:06 remaining after Smith split a pair of free throws.

Chris Bosh led all Toronto scorers with 24 points and Ford added 23 and 13 assists for the Raptors, who failed in their bid to sweep the season set against Atlanta.

"We really shouldn't have been in this situation at the end of the game," Bosh said. "However, with a 17-point lead, we knew they would still make a run. Everything just didn't fall our way tonight."