Well, as fun it was to watch from afar, this tweet by the Atlanta Hawks official account at the conclusion of the game pretty much sums up how the ending of their 19-game winning streak must feel.
Maaaaaaaaaan— Fun while it lasted! (@ATLHawks) February 3, 2015
After a 17-0 month of January and a 33-2 run since November 26, the Hawks met their match at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, who took the lead on an Eric Gordon three pointer at the 5:22 mark of the 1st quarter and wouldn't relinquish it for the rest of the game. The Hawks were without backup wingman Thabo Sefolosha but did play typical starter DeMarre Carroll for 23-plus minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis returned from his one-game sabbatical due to a groin strain and looked like his typical MVP-like self. He led the way with 29 points, 13 rebounds, a couple of blocked shots and some highlight reel dunks to boot.
He and his frontcourt partner, Omer Asik (9 points and a game-high 17 rebounds), were a force to be reckoned with and outplayed their All-star counterparts Paul Millsap and Al Horford. The Pelicans shot better from the field (50% to 45%), out-rebounded the Hawks by 20 (52-32: this is not a typo) and out-assisted them by 11 (30-19). These stats were very telling in the outcome, as noted by our own Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) before the game:
Hawks are 33-1 when they have the higher FG%. 31-2 when they edge opponents in assists. And my fav? 30-2 record when they commit less PF.— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) February 3, 2015
In the 11 games Evans has played (and started as the team's de-facto point guard) since Jrue Holiday's injury in Boston, he has averaged 7.7 assists a game. As noted here by ESPN Stats, he's had had four of his nine career 12+ assist games in the last five Pelicans' contests. Distributor Tyreke (along with Uber-Aggressive Tyreke, Feelin' It Tyreke and Clutch Tyreke) is one of my favorite versions of Evans, and his 6 dimes in the first quarter led to 16 points by New Orleans. In fact, Evans scored or assisted on 22 of the Pelicans 32 points in the quarter. The corner three by Quincy Pondexter with 6 seconds left in the period was the exclamation point of the impressive first 12 minutes by the team. They would never look back.
The Pelicans outscored the Hawks in every quarter, and got major contributions from the eight players who saw at least 20 minutes of playing time on the night (sorry John Salmons). Jimmer Fredette chipped in 10 points and 3 assists in his 20 minutes of court time, although his 3 turnovers and inability to run the offense at times still gives me pause as to his role on this team. His poor shooting on the season (currently at 19% for 3PT%) is bound to take a turn for the better, but if Jimmer continues to struggle with his stroke and can't initiate for others you have to think Dell has his contract circled as the last piece to move and add a back-up guard before the trade deadline.
Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter have brought some stability to the small forward position for the team since their arrivals. Both had nice games tonight -- banging with the likes of Millsap and DeMarre Carroll for the majority of the game and making life difficult for a typically efficient Atlanta team on the offensive end. Ryan Anderson added 15 points, grabbed 6 boards, and finished with game-high +15 in the plus/minus department. Even though he only made one of his four 3-point attempts, Anderson's ability to stretch the floor continues to open things up for the second unit offense, and I actually thought going into the game he would see more PT than Asik given the Millsap/Horford frontcourt matchup. I'm glad I was wrong as Asik was aggressive from the get go, and along with Davis, our bigs just destroyed the Hawks inside by snatching up boards and providing crucial rim protection against penetration from Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder.
To me, however, the story of the night (for consecutive games no less) was a productive and energetic Eric Gordon. The guy is playing with a pep in his step for the first time since he first put on a New Orleans uniform, and its leading to a more confident and aggressive player on the court. Gordon followed up his 28 point, 7 assist performance against the Clippers on Friday night with 20 points and 7 more dimes tonight. He hit a couple threes to establish a rhythm early in the game and finished 7 of 11 from the field and 4 of 6 from downtown. Since his return from his shoulder injury, Gordon has been solid if not spectacular and has become a valuable asset to have on the offensive end. If he can continue this level of the play for the remainder of the season, there's no reason to think the Pelicans are going anywhere when it comes to race for the playoffs in the Western Conference.
While we didn't get the Hawks at their best due to one rotation player missing the game (Sefolosha) and a starter and potential Most Improved Player candidate not being 100% (Carroll), it doesn't take away from the luster of beating a 40-8 team to end their 19-game winning streak. This is an excellent basketball team that legitimately could win the East if things go their way come April and May. The win propels the Pelicans to a record of 26-22, and coupled with the Suns losing to the Grizzlies at home tonight, puts New Orleans 1 game back overall and 2 in the win column from Phoenix (28-22), who is clinging to the 8 seed with the Pels and Thunder in hot suit. The playoff race in the Association this spring is going to be a fun one, and for the first time in years New Orleans should be in the thick of it.