After a gut-wrenching defeat on Saturday evening in Phoenix, the Atlanta Hawks took the floor in Colorado in search of a break-even West Coast road trip. What followed was something of a dominant performance, with the Hawks holding a substantial lead for much of the night on the way to a 119-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
The early going was an exercise in back-and-forth basketball, as both teams knocked down shots at a ridiculous rate. Atlanta used a 7-0 run to take a 29-24 lead during the first quarter, but the Nuggets closed within a single point at 31-30 after 12 minutes and the Hawks needed 65% (!) shooting from the floor in order to maintain that small edge.
Atlanta would then establish a lead that they would never relinquish, as the Hawks began the second quarter on a 7-0 run. From there, the road team steadily built the cushion throughout the remainder of the half, finally closing the second quarter on a 9-1 run to claim a 66-50 halftime advantage.
In the first half, the Hawks converted 59% from the floor and 43% from three-point range, and it was the strong play of Al Horford and Paul Millsap (combining for 25 points) that led the way. Atlanta's 66-point output tied for its highest scoring first half of the season, and the defensive tone set in the second quarter (Denver made just 4 of their 19 shots) would be crucial in what would become a victory.
After the break, it was an exercise in maintenance, as the Nuggets were never able to close within single-digits for the remainder of the night. Denver's biggest push came in the middle stages of the third quarter with an 8-0 run to close within an 81-69 margin, but that was quickly thwarted by Atlanta, and the roughest quarter of the night ended with only a two-point hiccup on the scoreboard for the Hawks.
Finally, Mike Budenholzer's club was able to simply run the clock out down the stretch with an effective barrage of run-stopping plays, and a 14-point victory was in the offing. The closing moments featured an appearance from every active player from the end of the bench, and there was a noticeable absence of tension in the best possible way.
The Hawks were led on this night by who else but Paul Millsap. The soon-to-be All-Star forward finished the night with 22 points and 9 rebounds in only 28 minutes of play, and Millsap produced bucket after bucket at opportune times for Atlanta. In support, Al Horford contributed 18 points, Dennis Schröder added 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and it was especially nice to see a big-time performance from Jeff Teague, who finished with a 12-point, 10-assist showing.
With Atlanta snapping a nearly 10-year (!) losing skid in the Mile High City, the Hawks can close a 2-2 road trip with a positive feeling. The team will take the floor again on Wednesday night as they host the Los Angeles Clippers at Philips Arena, but until then, optimism reigns on the heels of this performance.