The great streak was ended by a great player. If it wasn’t quite like the game of Jan. 9, 1972 — when the Lakers’ 33-game run was ended in Milwaukee on a day when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 39 points — it was as close a facsimile as the neo-NBA can offer. Kareem was the league’s best player then; Anthony Davis is its best now, and he went for 29 points and 13 rebounds. It happens.
What’s remarkable is that it took so long — from two days after Christmas to the second day of February — to happen to these Atlanta Hawks. They won 19 games in succession. Only four teams in NBA annals have done better: The Lakers of Wilt and West in 1971-72; the Heat of LeBron and D-Wade and Bosh in 2012-2013; the Rockets of Yao and McGrady in 2007-2008, and the Bucks of Kareem and the Big O in 1970-71.
Of those four, only the Rockets didn’t win the NBA title, and they had an excuse: Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in his foot during their 22-game run and was lost for the duration. Houston was eliminated in Round 1 of the playoffs by Utah. Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap were then Jazz subs.
Let’s face it: These Hawks were way past due for a clunker. They’ve played at an insanely exalted level since Thanksgiving, winning 33 of 35 entering Monday’s game in New Orleans, and their performances on the final weekend of the streak wasn’t quite as seamless as those that came before. (It didn’t help that DeMarre Carroll missed those two games, and that Thabo Sefolosha was lost 2 1/2 minutes into the game against Portland.)
From Win No. 2 in the run (Dec. 30 against Cleveland) through Win No. 17 (Jan. 28 against Brooklyn), the Hawks didn’t trail in a single fourth quarter. They trailed in the fourth quarter against Portland on Friday and inside the final three minutes against lowly Philly on Saturday. They won both, but both were at home. Monday marked the Hawks’ first road game since Jan. 17, and the arena across the street from the Superdome saw their counter reset from 19 to zero.
Ah, well. Nobody wins ’em all, and these Hawks won more games in succession than Jordan’s Bulls or Russell’s Celtics (or anybody’s Celtics, for that matter) ever did. They’re leading the East by seven games. According to NumberFire by way of ESPN, the Hawks had a 13 percent chance of claiming the conference’s top seed before they won 19 straight; they now have a 97 percent chance of being the No. 1 seed.
We might never again see a tear quite like this, which isn’t to suggest that the rest will be silence. They’ve got a significant home date against Washington on Wednesday, and come Friday they’ll play host to Golden State, which inched back ahead in the chase for the NBA’s best record, in the biggest regular-season game this franchise has known since the days of Dominique. The Hawks lost a game Monday, but they’ll win a bunch more before they’re through.