With a sigh of relief from around the NBA, it can now be said: The run of the undefeatable Hawks is over. Atlanta’s 19-game winning streak came to an end on Monday night via a 115-100 loss to Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. Last the Hawks lost it was a different time -- a different year, in fact, as Atlanta had topped every opponent since Dec. 26, 2014.
For the Pelicans to get the better of one of the best teams in the league took just the kind of rounded effort one would expect. New Orleans nursed advantages across the board, including notable edges in offensive rebounding, free throw frequency and long-range shooting. These were the by-products of good, smart play heightened by the benefit of a few breaks. A banked-in three-pointer (courtesy of Tyreke Evans) and an uncharacteristically competent bench performance (with a solid cameo from Jimmer Fredette) have a way of exacerbating a team’s hard-earned advantage.
It also doesn’t hurt when the Hawks, like every other team in the league, had no practical solution to covering Davis. Atlanta’s frontline is perfectly competent defensively. Yet only so much can be done when Davis (29 points, 13 rebounds) was hitting as he was on jumpers from the top of the floor and craning runners all throughout the paint. His length and activity on the offensive boards gave the Hawks fits, as did the size and strength of Omer Asik (17 rebounds overall) on the defensive glass. Eric Gordon, too, bore his share of the heavy lifting on offense in a continuation of his recent upward trend. It’s been a solid few weeks for the much-maligned Gordon (20 points, seven assists) and a big-time showing against the hottest team in the league makes for a worthy reward.
Evans held down the offense in the absence of Jrue Holiday, dialing up 12 of the Pelicans’ 30 assists. Many came in transition, where New Orleans was able to push the ball into easy scores off the initial break or out of a quick regroup against a shuffled defense. That transition defense proved a problem for the Hawks was out of character, to say the least. Atlanta ranks second in the league in points allowed per fast-break possession, per Synergy Sports, in part due to its across-the-board diligence. The first wave of defenders wasn’t quite so committed in this game, allowing for 17 fast break points off a handful of turnovers and routine missed shots.
That combination was enough to deny the Hawks a 20th consecutive victory. Atlanta, though, begins anew on Tuesday no less formidable. Its schedule still points to a Friday matchup against the Warriors that brings the best of each conference together. It would have been nice to ride into the occasion with a league-leading streak. Instead, the Hawks will surely settle for a pair of wins in consolation: first over the Wizards on Wednesday and a chaser over what has definitively been the best team in the league soon after.