A troubling fourth-quarter trend has emerged in the Atlanta Hawks’ past two games, putting their playoff hopes under increased pressure.
Kyle Lowry scored 25 points, Jonas Valanciunas had 13 points and 13 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors erased a 14-point deficit in the fourth to beat the Hawks 96-86 on Sunday.
”We were up the whole game, we had the momentum, and then we just kind of crumbled at the end,” Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll said.
The late collapse brought back bad memories of Friday’s 111-105 home loss to New Orleans, in which the Pelicans overturned a late Atlanta lead with a 42-point fourth quarter.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer called the back-to-back defeats ”very troubling,” a sentiment shared by forward Paul Millsap.
”We just lose our focus down the stretch,” Millsap said. ”I feel like we had it for three quarters. Fourth quarter, another letdown.”
Carroll and Millsap each scored 17 as the Hawks lost their second straight following a five-game winning streak.
”We just weren’t able to make enough plays down the stretch,” Budenholzer said. ”Our execution wasn’t good enough and they made more plays.”
Jeff Teague had 16 points and Pero Antic had 10 rebounds for Atlanta, which failed to win a third straight road game after losing its previous 10 away from home. The Hawks are 11-25 on the road.
DeMar DeRozan scored 21 points, Greivis Vasquez had 12 and Terrence Ross 10 as the Raptors used their biggest fourth-quarter comeback of the season to avoid their first three-game home losing streak since dropping games against Brooklyn, Miami and Denver between Nov. 26 and Dec. 1.
Toronto, which leads the Atlantic Division and holds the third seed in the Eastern Conference, fell in double overtime to Oklahoma City on Friday and lost to Phoenix last Sunday.
”Huge for us, huge for us,” Lowry said of beating the Hawks. ”We can’t let losses build up.”
Lowry, who scored 13 in the fourth, has scored 19 points or more in a career-high nine consecutive games. He reached the mark again Sunday despite being held to 27 minutes, about three quarters of his season average.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Lowry isn’t nursing an injury, but acknowledged an effort to keep his star guard’s playing time down in the final month of the regular season.
”We just talked with the medical people and as an organization, we are going to try and keep his minutes down as much as possible,” Casey said. ”It’s hard, believe me, as a coach and for him as a competitor. It looks like we’re going at each other but we both understand the situation.
Atlanta led 74-60 after Dennis Schroder converted a three-point play to begin the fourth, giving the Hawks their biggest lead of the game at that point.
But Toronto roared back with a 13-0 run including 3-pointers from DeRozan, Lowry and Nando DeColo, his first field goal since joining the Raptors in a Feb. 20 trade with San Antonio, making it 74-73 at 7:32.
Teague stopped Toronto’s run with a three-point play and, after a basket by Chuck Hayes, Shelvin Mack scored to make it 79-75. Ross was fouled on a jump shot but missed his free throw, which Amir Johnson tipped in to tie it at 79 with 5:21 left.
A 3 by Millsap gave the Hawks an 84-81 lead at 3:52, but Lowry and DeRozan each hit jump shots and Valanciunas made a pair of free throws as Toronto took an 87-84 lead with 2:01 remaining.
DeRozan pushed the lead to five with two free throws before Mack answered with a jumper, but Lowry sealed it by hitting a jump hook, then stealing Antic’s inbounds pass and streaking in for a fast-break layup, making it 93-86 with 39 seconds left.
Lowry capped it with his third 3 of the game with 11 seconds remaining.
”That’s what he does,” DeRozan said of Lowry’s big finish. ”To be honest, that’s Kyle. The hunger to win kicks in.”
Toronto started poorly, finishing the first quarter with more turnovers (seven) than made baskets (five). The Raptors conceded eight points off turnovers and missed 13 of 18 shot attempts, while Carroll scored 12 points to give the Hawks a 25-16 lead after one.
Toronto shot better and cut down on its turnovers in the second, getting six points each from Vasquez and Lowry. But Millsap scored 11 for Atlanta, which led 49-42 at halftime.
Schroder hit a 3 and Mike Scott scored back-to-back baskets in the final minute of the third as Atlanta took a 71-60 lead into the fourth.
NOTES: Atlanta G Kyle Korver (back spasms) missed his second straight game. … The Raptors won their 21st home game of the season, matching last year’s total with six games still to play. … Toronto FC and Brazilian national team goalkeeper Julio Cesar attended the game.