ATLANTA(AP) Joe Johnson was the center of the Atlanta offense, even as the team's fifth-leading scorer.

Johnson scored only 15 points, but his nine assists helped set up Al Horford and other scorers as the Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 102-96 on Wednesday night.

Horford scored 21 points, one of five scorers in double figures, and converted a key three-point play late in the game.

Horford noted it was unusual to see Johnson, fifth in the league with 24 points per game, so low on Atlanta's list of top scorers. For Horford, the development was a sign of the Hawks' growth.

"That says a lot about this team,'' Horford said.

Atlanta led by only two points when Horford's three-point play pushed the lead to 94-89 with 1:48 remaining. Flip Murray's 3-pointer with 54 seconds left made it 99-91.

Johnson said Murray has a knack for hitting big shots "usually near the end of the game.''

The Hawks turned to Murray for perimeter shots when the Bucks focused their defense on Johnson.

"That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. "When someone is double-teamed, someone else is left open.''

Murray said he had to take the "wide-open'' shots.

"I was taking the shots (the Bucks) wanted me to take, and I knocked them down,'' Murray said.

After Murray's 3-pointer, the Bucks had to foul and hope the Hawks missed their free throws the rest of the way.

The Hawks have won three of four after losing four straight. Atlanta was ahead most of the game but neither team led by double figures.

"Every time we got some momentum, they came back and made a big shot,'' said Horford, who called the Bucks "relentless.''

But the Bucks were in no mood for compliments as the players sat slumped in front of their lockers after the game.

"We can't make any excuses,'' said reserve Charlie Villanueva, who had 19 points in 22 minutes. "Nobody's going to feel sorry for us. We just fell short.''

Added Villanueva: "We should have won. We should have won that game.''

Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut was held out after bruising his knee in Monday's loss at Orlando, and the Bucks are still without leading scorer Michael Redd, who suffered a sprained ankle on Nov. 2.

Richard Jefferson scored 25 points for Milwaukee and rookie Ramon Sessions had 21. But Villanueva was Milwaukee's only other scorer in double figures.

The Hawks had better balance.

Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby each scored 18 points for Atlanta. Murray had 16 points.

Dan Gadzuric had six points and three rebounds as the Bucks' fill-in starting center, but he played only 18 minutes.

"They played hard, they're just a little short-handed,'' Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.

Woodson said his team struggled to adjust when Bucks coach Scott Skiles put a small lineup on the floor.

"It was really 5-on-5 perimeter players playing, so we looked somewhat lost in playing that game,'' Woodson said.

The Hawks led by four after one quarter, settled for a 48-48 halftime tie, and again led by four at 71-67 entering the final period. Atlanta's biggest lead was nine points.

Skiles found no consolation in his short-handed team staying close.

"No. This is pro sports. We're paid to win,'' Skiles said. "Nobody's going to present me a medal because we're not out of the game. We're supposed to be in the games. We're supposed to win the games. And we had our opportunities. We just weren't able to make the plays.''

Skiles, holding the final statistics, lamented his team's defensive breakdowns that allowed the Hawks to shoot 50 percent from the field, including 41.7 percent (10 for 24) on 3-pointers.

"We're not going to win that game,'' Skiles said. "Most nights we're not going to win that game. Especially with guys out.''

Notes: Woodson said F Josh Smith, who missed his 10th straight game with a sprained left ankle, will practice on Thursday and could play next week. ... Bucks G Luke Ridnour returned after missing a game with a knee injury. He had 5 points and 4 assists. ... Murray had three steals. Horford blocked three shots. ... The Hawks improved to 5-1 in home games.

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