Atlanta has been playing with a little fire of late, ever since the hot Knicks (winners of eight in a row heading into Sunday night) put pressure on them for the final playoff spot in the East.
This was the kind of loss the Hawks can’t afford if they want to make the postseason.
Atlanta was in charge for the first three quarters of this game — the Hawks shot 50 percent as a team while holding the Raptors to 36.7 percent shooting. The Hawks were up 11 and in charge. DeMarre Carroll was 7-of-12 for 17 points — it was that kind of game.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
The Hawks shot 6-of-22 overall and 1-of-10 from three in the fourth, plus they had four turnovers, a couple of them key. Meanwhile the Raptors shot 60 percent in the final frame, got 13 points from Kyle Lowry and 10 from DeMar DeRozan and stormed back for a comfortable 96-86 win.
The win keeps the Raptors two games ahead of Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division lead, plus the Raptors remain half a game up on the Bulls for the three seed (although I expect they fall behind the Bulls before the season ends).
Atlanta is now 2.5 games up on the Knicks, a gap the Knicks can close to 2 games with a win over Cleveland Sunday night. The Hawks do have a three game advantage over the Knicks in the loss column. The Hawks still control their own destiny, but they can’t afford letdown losses like this.
What let Atlanta down at the end of this game. Check out the Hawks possessions down the stretch after a pretty Paul Millsap a pick-and-pop three that had the Hawks up 3 with 3:50 left:
• Jeff Teague misses floater going one-on-three in transition.
• Teague misses a spinner in the lane.
• Millsap misses a spinner in the lane.
• Good ball movement got Millsap a wide open corner three, he missed it.
• In transition Hawks don’t attack but kick back to Teague for three, he misses.
• Shelvin Mack hits a floater in the lane to end 8-0 Raptors run.
• Coming out of timeout Lowry steals inbound pass right out of Millsap’s hands breakaway layup.
That was the ballgame.
Give the Raptors credit here — Lowry had 25 points on the night and made tough shots (like a floater across his body) late in the game, DeRozan hit some key midrange pull-ups in the final minutes on his way to 21 on the night. The Raptors played well and earned the win.
A win that gives the Knicks hope.