The Atlanta Hawks are the best team in the NBA. Let that soak in for a moment: The Atlanta Hawks are the best team in the NBA. After pulling away from the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter of a 124-116 win, the Hawks cemented themselves as the class of the league.
In a battle that could be a preview of the 2015 NBA Finals, the top teams in the East and the West did not disappoint. The Hawks and Warriors played crisp, sharp-shooting basketball, trading leads and runs all night. In the end, it was the Hawks' depth and three-point shooting that lifted them. Seven Hawks scored in double figures and the team shot 15-of-26 from the three-point line (55.6 percent). In their current 21-1 stretch, the Hawks have had five or more players score in double figures in 17 of those games.
The Warriors put up a valiant fight, but couldn't hang with the Hawks unrelenting offense down the stretch. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson powered the Warriors as usual. Curry had 26 points and nine assists while Thompson put up 29 points with five assists. The Warriors just couldn't get their shots from three to fall, shooting 12-of-33 from beyond the arc.
The game didn't start out as beautifully as expected. The teams were tied at 52 at the half. It wasn't a bad first half from either team by any means, but it lacked the offensive panache expected.
The second half was a different story. It was the best half of basketball in the NBA this season. The pace quickened, shots started to drop and both teams moved the ball at will. The Hawks outscored the Warriors, 37-33, in the third quarter, and neither team slowed down for the final frame.
Atlanta and Golden State threw their best at one another. The Hawks were up by 10? Curry and Thompson hit threes. The Warriors clawed back to tie it? Jeff Teague stole the ball and found Al Horford. The two teams scored in bunches all night, making no lead safe. It was a constant offensive attack from offenses that both make the extra pass or cut to the hoop.
But eventually, someone had to win, and it was once again the Hawks. No one has figured out how to beat this team. Eventually, Kyle Korver is going to get open. If he doesn't, Paul Millsap will take over. If Millsap can't do it, Horford or Teague will take their turn. And it doesn't stop with the starters; Dennis Schroder had nine points and seven assists off the bench, and Kent Bazemore is instant energy. Against the Warriors, the Hawks bench was 7-of-8 from deep. It's hard to beat that.
The two best teams lived up to their billing on Friday night. If this game was a preview of the NBA Finals, no one would complain.
3 other things we learned
Example No. 4,356 that Anthony Davis is not of this earth. He had 41 points and 10 rebounds, which is already unworldly. But the double-clutch three-point shot he hit as time expired to win the game was even more ridiculous (See: Play of the game below) as the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 116-113, on the road. The game had serious playoff implications. Heading into the matchup, the Pelicans were one game behind the Phoenix Suns for the eight playoff spot in the West. The Thunder were two back. Much like the Hawks-Warriors game, this one lived up to the hype, with the stars trading blows. On this night, one star was better than two, even though Russell Westbrook went off. He ended the night with 48 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. Durant had 27 points on 9-of-26 shooting. But the two stars couldn't pick up a win against Davis, who is now 11-of-12 from the field on shots to tie or take the lead in the final five minutes or overtime, according to Basketball Reference. It was the two teams' final meetings this season. The Pelicans won the season series, 3-1, giving them the head-to-head tiebreaker should they end up with the same record as the Thunder.
The Cleveland Cavaliers finally lost, and the Indiana Pacers remembered they don't like whatever team LeBron James is on. The Pacers halted the Cavaliers' win streak at 12 games with a 103-99 win. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were superb: James had 25 points six rebounds and five assists while Irving had 29 points. But it wasn't enough, especially with Kevin Love only scoring five points and grabbing eight rebounds. C.J. Miles led the Pacers in scoring with 26 points, but George Hill was the difference maker. Hill had 20 points and seven assists in 26 minutes in just his 12th game this season. Biggest of all was the four-point play to give the Pacers a four-point lead with 1:26 to play. It was a big win for the Pacers, who are still somehow in the playoff hunt in the dismal Eastern Conference. For Roy Hibbert, playing against James seemed to remind him what playoff basketball felt like. He fouled James hard on a play at the end of the third quarter. He was charged with a flagrant foul, but looked like he was happy to be playing hard.
The Los Angeles Clippers are struggling. A night after an embarrassing loss to the Cavaliers and a day full of off-court news following Chris Paul's comments about referee Lauren Holtkamp, the Clippers jumped out to a 21-6 lead against the Toronto Raptors. They were up, 30-10, at one point in the first quarter. But the Raptors fought back -- and quickly. They trailed, 59-57, at the half, and were up by 16 at the end of the third quarter . They won, 123-107, to hand the Clippers their third straight loss. It's the first three-game losing streak of the season for the Clippers. DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 24 points as seven Raptors scored in double figures. After the slow start, the Raptors looked like a team that could contend in the Eastern Conference. The Clippers, on the other hand, looked listless. Blake Griffin had 26 points, nine assists and six rebounds in the loss. The effort hasn't been there for Los Angeles in two consecutive double-digit losses to East foes. The Clippers have the players, but right now they don't have the desire.
Play of the night
Screw "play of the night," this might end up being the shot of the year. Especially if they Pelicans beat the Thunder by one game for the last playoff spot in the West. All hail the Brow.
3 other fun things
Pacers 103, Cavaliers 99 (Indy Corn Rows recap | Fear the Sword recap)