A day after thinking they had clinched a playoff berth, the Atlanta Hawks can actually do it -- and against a team they might see in the first round.
The Hawks are coming off two overtime victories and needed an extra five minutes to survive the visiting Milwaukee Bucks late last month, but the scene shifts to the Bradley Center on Monday night for the first of two more meetings between the potential postseason opponents.
Atlanta believed it had wrapped up a spot in the postseason with a 119-114 overtime victory over visiting San Antonio on Sunday, but the team learned Monday that's not the case. There's a slight possibility the Hawks could finish in a four-way tie for the last playoff spot and lose the conference tiebreaker, so Atlanta still needs one more win or a Chicago loss to clinch.
Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford led the Hawks (45-24) to the playoffs the past two seasons after an eight-year drought, and they've gotten a taste of what they might face in this postseason over their last three down-to-the wire games.
Atlanta lost 106-105 in Toronto on Wednesday on Chris Bosh's jumper with two seconds left, but the Hawks rallied from a 10-point, second-half deficit Friday and beat Charlotte 93-92 in overtime on Johnson's buzzer-beating fallaway jumper.
The Hawks were down 14 to the Spurs early in the second quarter Sunday, but Marvin Williams had 26 points, Horford scored 22 and grabbed 18 rebounds, and Johnson had 20 points to go with 13 assists.
Jamal Crawford had 19 points and mistakenly thought his career-long playoff drought was over.
"It's unbelievable," Crawford said. "I've been waiting for this for a long time. ... It feels good to officially get it."
Crawford is the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award, but he didn't do much to help the Hawks off the bench when Milwaukee (38-30) visited Philips Arena on Feb. 28, shooting 3 of 14.
That's where Atlanta began its string of impressive comebacks. The Hawks rallied from seven down with four minutes remaining to force overtime, and Johnson scored nine of his 24 points after regulation to engineer a 106-102 victory.
Smith had 22 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. He's averaging 21.3 points and 10.3 boards in his last four games against the Bucks.
That overtime game was the teams' only previous meeting of the season, but Atlanta will visit Milwaukee again April 12 -- perhaps days before seeing each other as the Eastern Conference's fourth and fifth playoff seeds.
The Bucks still have some work to do to clinch their first postseason spot since 2006, but they won't have any trouble if they keep playing the way they did to end a three-game western road trip.
Milwaukee needed double overtime to beat Sacramento 114-108 on Friday but hardly looked tired in topping Denver -- 30-5 at home coming in -- 102-97 on Saturday night.
"It's great because playing against a team that could go all the way, they have the pieces to do it, it's a big win for us for the playoffs to get a good spot," said Carlos Delfino, who had 21 points. "It's a great win after yesterday's game."
It was even more impressive considering that Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, who combined for 56 points against the Kings, totaled 11 against the Nuggets.
John Salmons picked up the slack, scoring 26 points after pouring in 27 in Sacramento. Salmons has averaged 19.8 points and the Bucks are 14-2 since acquiring him from Chicago.
He had a season-high 32 points in the overtime loss at Atlanta.