Atlanta 127, Toronto 120

ATLANTA, April 2, 2008 (AP) -- In three NBA seasons, Josh Smith has built a reputation on fierce play in the paint.

Smith won't hesitate to shoot jumpers, though, if the Atlanta Hawks need a big basket.

"I'm not a 3-point shooter,'' he said, "but if it comes to me, I'll take it.''

Mike Bibby hit a tying 3-pointer in regulation, Smith made two in overtime, and the Hawks beat the Toronto Raptors 127-120 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight victory.

Atlanta increased its lead for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot to four games over Indiana, which lost 92-77 at Boston.

Toronto is tied for fifth place with Washington and Philadelphia, but Raptors coach Sam Mitchell might file a protest with the NBA after the officials discounted T.J. Ford's basket with no time remaining.

Mitchell argued with referee Mark Wunderlich, who watched the instant replay, that Philips Arena officials started the clock early with just 0.5 seconds remaining.

"We had some opportunities tonight, but things just didn't go our way in the end,'' Mitchell said. "Sometimes these things happen.''

Smith's 3-pointer from the right side, making it 114-113 with 2:05 left in overtime, gave the Hawks their first lead since Josh Childress hit a pair of free throws with 4:25 left in the second quarter.

Chris Bosh's three-point play put Atlanta back ahead with 1:18 to play, but Bibby followed with a 3 before Childress blocked Ford's jump shot. Smith's 3 from nearly the same spot as his previous attempt made it 122-118.

Ford thought his basket at the end of regulation should've counted. The Hawks were fooled badly on the play, which was designed for Ford to line up at the top of the key and run toward Carlos Delfino and catch an inbounds pass.

Instead, Ford ran easily into the lane and jumped for Delfino's alley-oop pass. The officials originally ruled that Ford banked in his basket as the horn sounded.

"I thought it could go either way,'' Ford said. "I didn't want to get too excited.''

Bosh had 24 points for Toronto, and Ford finished with 23 points and 13 assists. Rasho Nesterovic scored 21 points and reserve guard Jose Calderon handed out 10 assists for the Raptors.

Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 28 points. Bibby had 26 and Smith finished with 24. Bibby and Johnson combined for 23 assists. Al Horford pulled down 12 rebounds to go with his 14 points.

Bibby forced overtime with a 3-pointer from the left corner, taking Childress' inbound bounce pass from the baseline and faking out Ford.

Not one to show much emotion, Bibby denied that he celebrated with a little dance.

"It was a walk,'' he said with a smile. "My mom will not like it.''

Leading by 17 on Nesterovic's runner with 1:09 left in the third, Toronto had almost nothing go right after Jamario Moon's 18-footer gave it a 105-98 lead with 5:19 remaining.

The Raptors made just one basket in their last nine possessions of regulation - a 6-foot runner by Ford that gave them a 107-104 lead with 1:32 left.

Toronto was 15-for-20 from the field in the third quarter, led by Anthony Parker's 4-for-4, before everyone but Ford and Bosh went cold.

"When you're on the road playing in a tough environment, you have to execute,'' Bosh said. "The Hawks have been playing very well, and we knew they would make a run. We did a pretty good job withstanding the run, but everything just didn't fall our way tonight. I wouldn't take anything away from Atlanta. They played hard tonight.''

For Smith, who grew up in Atlanta and entered the NBA straight from high school, winning a tight game was just what the playoff-starved Hawks needed.

"We're confident,'' Smith said. "We feel good about ourselves. We feel like the sky's the limit for this team. We're not taking nights off.''

Notes: With a 35-40 record, Atlanta matched its single-season high in victories for the first time 1997-98. ... The Hawks, who haven't made the playoffs since 1999, will put first-round tickets on sale Saturday. ... They beat the Raptors for the first time in five tries. ... Nesterovic's 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter was his first in 11 career regular-season attempts.Toronto is tied for fifth place with Washington and Philadelphia.

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