On Feb. 6, 2015, the Golden State Warriors played the Atlanta Hawks. It was the most eagerly anticipated game of last season after the two teams had unexpectedly paired up to dominate their respective conferences. The Hawks won that early February game, 124-116, shooting 49 percent with 15 three-pointers while Jeff Teague led the way with 23 points.
Somehow that game, played just over a year ago, feels more like a decade.
On Monday, the two teams clashed again. The Warriors are champions now, threatening to win the most games in any NBA season ever, somehow even better than before. On the other side is Atlanta, just 31-27, which has them sitting as just the sixth-best team in the conference. They tried to trade Teague, gone from leading scorer to expendable, and Al Horford at the deadline this year. Even more damning is the fact that they couldn't pull off a deal, deciding instead to wallow in the middle of the pack. The circumstances could hardly have changed more drastically.
Given all that, it's no surprise the Warriors won, 102-92. Stephen Curry pulled his usual magic tricks, dropping 36 points and eight assists on a night where it didn't even feel like he had his best stuff. Golden State is 50-5 now, which is a record that deserves to be spelled out. Yes, FIFTY and FIVE.
But for one long stretch in the third quarter, it wasn't about Golden State, which is rather surprising. Third quarters are the Warriors' thing. That's when they turn tenderized teams into minced meat. Up 63-41 two minutes into the frame, it looked like that was on the verge of happening yet again.
It didn't. Something happened in Atlanta that directly resembled the team that took the Eastern Conference by storm last year. Down 22 points, the Hawks scored 36 in the third quarter, holding the Warriors to six points in the period's final seven minutes and pulling within one by the time the buzzer sounded. In the fourth quarter, Atlanta surged ahead, briefly taking a four-point lead. The Warriors came back, nailing a few too many shots, because this is what they always do. But for one nostalgic moment, all we could think about was that hyped meeting of last year.
It's not quite certain what happened to Atlanta, but now a full year removed from that incredible undefeated month of January, those days are clearly gone for good. The shooting wasn't sustainable, it seems, especially as several players showed their age quicker than expected. The defense is still good, but maybe not good enough to anchor the Hawks without elevated scoring on the other end. The 36-point third looked like the Hawks of old, but the rest of the game looked like the new Hawks, a team that will make the playoffs, maybe provide some interest in the first round, but then inevitably fall out.
It's a shame. The 2014-15 Hawks were a story no one expected, and nobody could have expected that this is where we would end up a year after that super-hyped showdown. For a quarter, though, we got to experience the nostalgia in full: appreciation, sure, but also a bit of sadness.
3 other things from Monday
Is this the Pistons' turning point?
The Pistons struggled as they went into the All-Star break and lost their first two games coming out of it, despite one of the biggest trades during the quiet deadline that brought Tobias Harris to Detroit. So they needed the 96-88 win they earned on Monday, leading nearly all the way against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sure, it got iffy towards the end before the Pistons rebuffed an attempted comeback and sure, LeBron James played one of the worst games of his career, shooting 5 of 18 with six turnovers. But Detroit needed this win, a signature one, one they can be proud of as they try to master the attitude and swagger that all the best Stan Van Gundy teams have had. The pieces seem to be there, with an All-Star center, a near All-Star point guard and a few physical, versatile wing players fitting in between them. But at 28-29, two games out of the playoffs, the Pistons are running out of time to find their lane if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Pacers miss an opportunity
What a stark difference between the front and back court for Indiana on Monday. Paul George, Myles Turner and Ian Mahinmi combined for 58 points and 22 rebounds, with George chipping in 31 of those points on 24 shots. If Indiana's guards had turned in any semblance of good games, the Pacers would have left Miami with a nice win against a fellow Eastern Conference playoff opponent and moved just a game behind them.
Instead, Monta Ellis and George Hill combined for eight points on 2-of-24 shooting. Ellis hit both shots, but he did it on 17 field goal attempts. Even worse, Ellis missed an open Turner at the end of regulation that would have potentially won the game right there and avoiding the losing overtime period completely. Alas.
Monta missed Myles so bad at the end of regulation .... https://t.co/NWdrL5cobT— whitney (@its_whitney) February 23, 2016
Jimmer Fredette debuts! But only because the Knicks are terrible
There's your roller coaster headline of the night. Fredette signed a 10-day contract with New York on Monday, but he wasn't supposed to play in the Knicks' game against Toronto, only jumping in thanks to the very lopsided nature of that one. He hit a three, though! Maybe he'll stick this time, although let's be honest, the chances of that seem only slightly more likely than any other time he's been in the league.
When Jimmer Fredette humbly accepts his hall of fame entrance we will remember his first three pointer as a Knick pic.twitter.com/185RgwiNV0— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) February 23, 2016
Play of the night
I feel like Giannis' highlights-per-48-minutes metrics are way down this year, but this enormous off-glass jam sort of makes up for it.
3 fun things
Your nightly Stephen Curry highlight roundup. Spoiler alert: he made multiple cool plays. Just to single one out, let's talk about his shimmy-shake after nailing this clutch triple.
Kyrie Irving ruined the Pistons with these two moves on Monday (but Cleveland lost, so there's that). More importantly, though, it turns out his absence from the first quarter on out Sunday wasn't due to flu-like symptoms, but actually, bed bugs. What!?
Pablo Prigioni is an inflatable plastic tube man.
Pistons 96, Cavaliers 88 (Detroit Bad Boys recap | Fear the Sword recap)
Heat 101, Pacers 93 (Hot Hot Hoops recap | Indy Cornrows recap)
Raptors 122, Knicks 95 (Raptors HQ recap | Posting & Toasting recap)
Warriors 102, Hawks 92 (Golden State of Mind recap | Peachtree Hoops recap)
Bucks 108, Lakers 101 (Brew Hoop recap | Silver Screen & Roll recap)
Timberwolves 124, Celtics 122 (Canis Hoopus recap | Celtics Blog recap)
Clippers 124, Suns 84 (Clips Nation recap | Bright Side of the Sun recap)
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Video Game Stats: Anthony Davis absolutely torched the Pistons on Sunday