Hawks let another lead slip away

Now, a 14-point fourth-quarter lead is not safe for the Hawks.

The Raptors erased the double-digit deficit over the final four minutes en route to a 96-86 victory over the Hawks Sunday afternoon at Air Canada Centre. The defeat comes two days after the Hawks lost an eight-point lead to the Pelicans.

With each blown loss, the Hawks’ playoff spot is in increased jeopardy.

The Hawks (31-37) have lost two straight after a season-high five-game win streak. They hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 14 games remaining in the regular season. They are two games behind the seventh-place Bobcats. Perhaps more importantly, the Hawks hold just a three-game lead over the Knicks, who lost to the Cavaliers Sunday night.

“Very troubling,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his team’s failure to hold leads of late.

The Raptors closed the game on a 15-2 run to secure the come-from-behind win, as the Hawks missed five straight shots during the stretch. Paul Millsap gave the Hawks an 84-81 lead, after the advantage had been erased, with a 3-pointer with 3:51 remaining. The Hawks would manage just two more points.

“We get a big lead and either we think we have the game won or we tried to end the game at that one particular time,” Millasp said. “It’s a long game. We have to understand it’s a long game. We have to continue to make plays, continue to stay disciplined and try to pull it out.”

DeMarre Carroll and Millsap had 17 points apiece for the Hawks. Jeff Teague added 16 points. Millsap and Teague had makeable shots down the stretch that failed to drop. Teague couldn’t convert on driving attempts in the lane on consecutive possessions.

“We had wide-open shots,” said Carroll, who tied a career-high with five steals. “We just didn’t knock them down. Jeff had three. Paul had one wide open. We just didn’t hit them. We’ve just got to keep pushing and hopefully we can build on lead when we have a big lead.”

The Raptors (39-30) won for the second time in the past five games. Kyle Lowry had a game-high 25 points. DeMar DeRozan, who averaging 30.3 points in three previous games against the Hawks this season, finished with 21 points, 15 in the second half. The teams split their season series with each winning both home games.

Dennis Schroder converted a three-point play to start the fourth quarter to give the Hawks the 14-point lead, 74-60.

It wasn’t safe.

The Raptors went on a 13-0 run to pull within a point, as the Hawks missed seven straight shots and had a turnover. DeRozan made it 74-73 with a 3-pointer. The Raptors tied the game, 79-79, two minutes later when Amir Johnson tipped in the miss of a Terrance Ross free throw trying to complete a three-point play. Millsap gave the Hawks their final lead.

The Raptors outscored the Hawks 36-15 in the fourth quarter.

“You have to give Toronto credit,” Budenholzer said. “They made a lot of plays in the fourth quarter on both ends of the court. Defensively, they turned up their pressure and held us to 15 points. Offensively, they made a lot of plays. We weren’t able to make enough plays down the stretch. I think we had a (14-)point lead and our execution wasn’t good enough. They made more plays. It’s a credit to them.”

The Hawks started fast and led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter and as many as 14 points in the second quarter. The Raptors used a 12-4 run in the second quarter to close the game but the Hawks took a 49-42 advantage into halftime.

Carroll had 12 of his points, with four steals, in the first quarter. Millsap had 11 of his points in the second quarter.

The Raptors closed to within two points, 52-50, in the third quarter. However, the Hawks pushed their advantage to 11 points, taking a 71-60 lead into the final quarter. That lead, and more, was not enough.

“It happens,” Teague said. “They were playing at home. We knew they would make a run. We just couldn’t sustain it tonight.”

The Hawks host the Suns Monday.

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