For much of the great streak, the Atlanta Hawks had made it look easy. (It hadn’t been, but that’s how they’d made it appear.) Friday night was hard. Portland was in town, and the Trail Blazers are, to use Mike Krzyzewski’s boilerplate encomium, really good. The Hawks started without DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, and saw Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement, last 2 1/2 minutes before tweaking a hamstring.
When you’re flowing as freely as these Hawks, any hint of a hitch in the git-along is enough to give pause. And when the game wears on and the final period begins with the Hawks facing their first fourth-quarter deficit since — pause for emphasis — the 8:04 mark at Milwaukee on Dec. 27, which was 33 days and 17 games ago … well, you wondered if this was indeed the night the great streak ended.
It was not. The Hawks stacked 36 points on the Blazers over the final 12 minutes and won 105-99. They found a way to guard Portland when it mattered — Al Horford induced a key miss from LaMarcus Aldridge, who didn’t miss much en route to 37 points — and found a way not to be guarded themselves.
Dennis Schroder, the 21-year-old from Germany, changed the game at the beginning of the fourth, and after that there was no way it was changing back. (Not even with Horford making the silliest pass of his life with the Hawks up four and 18 seconds remaining.)
In a way, the Hawks needed such a game to remind themselves — and us, too — that they’re not just pretty but gritty. It’s one thing to win when the shots are falling, something else (and something more) to do it because you hung tough long enough for it to matter when the shots do fall. And when Mike Scott and Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap hit fourth-quarter treys (the first two off Schroder feeds), what might have been the streak-buster had become the 18th in succession.
The Hawks are now tied for the eighth-longest streak in single-season NBA history. Of the 10 previous teams to win this many or more, seven won NBA titles. On a night such as this, with another victory over another splendid opponent in the bank, it makes us ask if these Hawks might well be the team that wins the last NBA game played come June.
The game column from myajc: January 2015 — the month the Hawks made us believe.