The Atlanta Hawks hosted a rare Sunday afternoon matinee at Philips Arena, and the Denver Nuggets were the opponent of record. After a blitzkrieg throughout the first half, the Hawks built a comfortable lead, and they were able to hold on for a 96-84 victory.
The game got off a bit of an inauspicious start for the home team, as the visiting Nuggets scored the first five points of the afternoon. Atlanta woke up in a relative hurry, however, as the team surged to a 9-0 run in the middle stages of the first quarter, claiming a 21-13 lead with 4:07 remaining after Kyle Korver connected on his second three of the day.
After Denver scrapped a bit to cut the lead back down to two, the Hawks unleashed another 9-0 spurt to extend the advantage to 30-19, and from there, the team traded baskets on the way to an 11-point lead after the first quarter. Atlanta held Denver to just 35% from the field in the opening quarter, but easily the most impressive stat came from the offense, as the Hawks did not commit a single turnover in the first 12 minutes.
The onslaught kept coming for the Hawks in the second quarter, as the home team streaked to a 10-3 run after Dennis Schröder connected on a three. Atlanta's ball security continued to be impeccable, as the team did not commit a turnover until the 1:46 mark of the second quarter on the way to as much of a 19-point lead, but Denver would mount a mini-charge of their own. The Nuggets scored on five straight trips, and with an 10-3 run, they climbed within a 12-point margin at 48-36 with less than three minutes remaining the half.
However, the Hawks rallied in a big way, scoring the final eight points of the half, including a buzzer-beating lay-up by DeMarre Carroll to extend the lead to a 57-36 margin. The Hawks held the Nuggets to just 31.7% shooting from the field in the half, including 3-for-16 from long range, and Atlanta committed only one turnover against 15 assists. It was a thoroughly balanced effort from the home team, also, as Kyle Korver led the way with 10 points, while five (!) different Hawks scored exactly seven points prior to halftime.
Denver showed a bit of fight early in the third quarter, closing within 17 points at 67-50 before a Mike Budenholzer timeout at the 6:18 mark. The performance was uneven (to be kind) on both ends in the early going, and the natives were certainly restless after Denver climbed back within 13 on a Timofey Mozgov jump shot with less than four minutes remaining in the third.
That onslaught forced Jeff Teague, who had been visibly struggling, to the bench in favor of Schröder and Mack, and while Denver would close to an 11-point margin on the next trip, Paul Millsap ceased the bleeding with a timely three-pointer. The Nuggets, though, were cooking offensively, and that would need to be corrected in order for Atlanta to rebuild the lead to a more comfortable margin.
Denver's onslaught and, really, Atlanta's lapse in concentration in performance resulted in the lead being trimmed to just eleven at the end of the third quarter. For the uninitiated, that signaled a 10-point margin in favor of the visitors in the third quarter, but fortunately, the fourth quarter left plenty of time for rectification.
The lead dipped to as few as nine points in the early stages of the fourth, but the game was never in grave danger, thanks in large part to Denver's inability to produce coherent offense. The Nuggets simply couldn't take advantage of repeated opportunities, and while that was fortunate for Atlanta, it wasn't a quality second half performance. Denver did manage to claw within seven points in the final four minutes, but back-to-back threes from Teague and Korver stemmed the tide, and Teague put things away comfortably with a lay-up to make the score 92-80 with 2:38 remaining.
While the final margin of victory was a comfortable 12 points, it wasn't a night where there was a spectacular individual performance for the Hawks. Paul Millsap led the way in the scoring department with 23 points, but he snatched just 2 rebounds while making 6 of 13 shots, and he wasn't necessarily spectacular. DeMarre Carroll (11 points, 9 rebounds), Al Horford (11 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Kyle Korver (15 points, 5 rebounds) all reached double-figures in their own right, but it was an uneven effort offensively, with Atlanta shooting just 41.4% as a team.
Defense was where the game was largely won, as the Nuggets were held to just 36.6% shooting from the floor and a comical 6 for 35 from 3-point range. Atlanta did lose the rebounding battle solidly at 52-43, but that hiccup was overcome thanks to defense and some general impotence from the undermanned Denver team. Still, it was a victory over a competent, Western Conference opponent, and we'll take it.
There is no rest for the Atlanta Hawks on the heels of this victory, as the team will immediately board a flight for Indianapolis, where the Pacers await them for a Monday evening tilt. The Hawks are now in a tie for second-place in the Eastern Conference, though, with a 13-6 record, and that is tough to argue against at this stage of the season.