The Atlanta Hawks, a team that has swallowed up the rest of the Eastern Conference by playing a near-perfect imitation of Spursian super basketball, took their 19-game win streak to New Orleans last night to face Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. The Hawks may be an unrelenting monster, but they met a monster-slayer in Davis.
The exciting thing about a matchup between the Hawks and Anthony Davis is that they are both deadly for the same reason. The Hawks are impossible to stop because they are everywhere. There's rarely a minute of a game when they do not have five guys on the court who can shoot, make the right pass, and play fantastic team defense. But here's the thing about Anthony Davis: he's also everywhere. Davis is essentially everything that's cool about the Hawks represented as an individual, a player whose skills are so unique and all-conquering that nothing can really be done about him.
Davis led all players with 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting, adding 13 rebounds and two blocks. His highlight reel (above) from the night is typically impressive, featuring all the oddly angled putback dunks, smooth jumpers, and hilariously overwhelming defense that we've all come to expect from him. My personal favorite play is at about the 3:10 mark, when Jeff Teague gets it in his head that it's a good idea to try Davis with a step-back three. Someday, people will learn to stop doing that.
If there are two plays that really demonstrate exactly what kind of nightmare a player like Davis can be for a team like the Hawks, they're two defensive stops from the third quarter. On the first, Davis deals with a drive and crossover from Hawks power forward Paul Millsap, recovering in time and deploying his ungodly length to erase what normally would have been a layup:
A few minutes later, Millsap again tried to drive on Davis, and ended up looking like an overmatched scrub just screwing around in garbage time:
Paul Millsap is very good. He's the kind of multifaceted player—a strong power forward who can rebound, shoot threes, run the floor, and drive to the hoop—that makes the Hawks hum. When he's matched up against a normal power forward, he presents all kinds of problems: Do you play off of him and let him shoot spot-up threes (he's shooting 35 precent from deep), or do you let him drag you away from the rim and him go driving past when you hug him close?
Anthony Davis isn't a normal power forward, though, the same way the Hawks aren't a normal team. He can chew up all those matchup problems, spit them back in the Hawks' faces, and then go dunk on somebody's head on the other end.
That's what made last night's game so fulfilling—it was a clash between the two forces in the NBA that show no weaknesses, have no cracks to exploit. This time, Davis's individual brilliance won out over the Hawks' shared consciousness, and it's a battle I wish we could watch every night.