The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up their five game, Western Conference road trip with a victory in the Mile High City against the Denver Nuggets 110-97, snapping a 10 game road losing streak in the process.
Dennis Schröder led the way with 19 points and 10 assists while Taurean Prince added 16 points.
For the Nuggets, Gary Harris scored 25 points while Will Barton added 15 points.
A comfortable win
The Hawks were never really challenged in this one, never a threat they were ever going to lose this game.
They trailed for part of the first quarter (and only by as much as six points) and once they took the lead at the 6:48 mark in the first quarter, that was it: the Hawks never relinquished the lead back to Denver after that.
For every run the Nuggets had for the Hawks and threatened to get back into the game — whether it was the beginning of the second quarter, beginning of the third quarter, a couple of times mid-way through the third quarter — the Hawks had a response for it.
And when the fourth quarter came the Hawks finally opened a double digit lead and pulled away from the Nuggets for good and ensured they ended the road trip the right way.
Postgame, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer credited his side’s character as they pulled through with a victory on the fifth and final game of this road trip.
“...Just feel like it’s a great sign of character at the end of a long road trip where you’ve had a couple of tough games, to come out and play the way we did, in Denver. It’s a tough environment, it’s tough home court advantage and just the character that it shows, the competitiveness of our guys. Obviously did a lot of things well on both ends of the court but just pleased and proud of the show of character tonight.”
This was the first road win for the Hawks since December 2nd when they won in Brooklyn (“Dang, been that long?” Malcolm Delaney remarked when he heard that stat). But for a team that has only won 11 games all season, where it comes hardly matters.
“It just feels good to win a game period,” said Malcolm Delaney postgame. “We’ve been battling, it’s been tough for us, we’ve been losing a lot of close games. So just to pull one out and finish how we did is pretty good for us.”
The Nuggets were pretty poor in this game it must be said, and Nuggets head coach Mike Malone wasn’t too pleased postgame.
“Forget the numbers for a second — (Atlanta) played harder than us,” Malone said via the Denver Post. “That right there drives me crazy… for us to think we can take anybody lightly is a joke in my opinion.”
“You can see it in the first half, just the mistakes we were making,” added Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris. “Just real lackadaisical. Just a team that thought they could just turn it on in the second half, and we didn’t.”
There was probably a degree of the Nuggets not taking the Hawks seriously here: worst team in the league when it comes to record, the Nuggets are at home in the high altitude and the Hawks are on the last game of their road trip that hasn’t gone well and probably just want to get home...
We know this Hawks team will, more often than not, play hard and the Hawks played a quality game for the most of the 48 minutes in this one and they deserve a lot of credit for that.
Limiting Nikola Jokic
With Paul Millsap sidelined with a broken hand, there’s even more attention shifted to Nuggets star center Nikola Jokić, and Jokić struggled big time last night: nine points on 4-of-21 shooting and 0-of-8 shooting from three.
The Hawks did some good stuff defensively around/on Jokić but a lot of this tough shooting night can be simply attributed to Jokić just not hitting shots, especially from the perimeter: he was just cold last night. Coach Bud recognised this but also credited the defensive work of Ersan Ilyasova in particular.
“I would say it’s one of those nights for him,” said Bud of Jokić’s tough night. “He can shoot the ball, he’s normally going to make a few more of those shots. So I think he had a little bit of an off night. But Ersan is an unique defender. He’s got a low center of gravity, he’s a toughness, a strength, to him. They played a lot of European basketball, whether it’s against each other or other guys that are similar, I think Ersan has a good feel and sense. I think Dewayne (Dedmon) and Miles (Plumlee) and some other guys guarded him too, lots of activity around him.”
“We just wanted to make it tough for him,” said Malcolm Delaney of Jokić. “He’s a good passer, he’s good around the basket. Ers (Ilyasova) is good with that: trying to make him fight for the ball a lot earlier, he just did a good job. Then the guards started to collapse a little bit more so he couldn’t put the ball on the ground. Today’s one of the days it worked.”
Jokić’s limited impact had a huge say on the outcome of this game, and his 0-of-8 shooting from three led to another problem the Nuggets had last night...
Denver’s three-point shooting woes
For the season, the Nuggets are a fairly decent three-point shooting team: 11 a game on 30 attempts a game for 36% but Wednesday night was not a decent night shooting the three: 9-of-37 including Nikola Jokić’s 0-of-8 shooting from three.
Had Denver made three or four of those threes — and if they had shot more than 24% on threes on this game — this would’ve been a much closer game. Had Trey Lyles shot the 46% from three he had instead of 1-of-5, Wilson Chandler shot 1-of-4... You never know.
The Hawks caught a break that Denver missed as many threes as they did.
The Hawks’ bench played a key role in this game as they outscored the Nuggets’ bench 46-31.
Marco Belinelli and Malcolm Delaney scored 10 points each, Mike Muscala added nine points (all coming in the final period and has shot 8-of-8 from the field in his last three games), Dewayne Dedmon also added nine points and nine rebounds and John Collins added eight points despite playing with foul trouble for most of this game — just a solid performance from all of the bench (bar Tyler Dorsey, sorry).
A collective effort, but Malcolm Delaney said postgame that the bench needed to do more and it starts with him and this is something Delaney wants to be held accountable for.
“Our bench needs to play a little bit better,” said Delaney. “I take the pride in that, being the leader coming off the bench and trying to do that, pick up the pace. If the first team is up, try to build the lead. If we’re down, try to get the lead down or take the lead when we get in. Just something I’m taking pride in.”
Coach Bud on the other hand was very pleased with the play of his backup point guard, who scored 10 points and dished out six assists.
“Malcolm’s minutes and Malcolm’s play were huge for us tonight.” said Bud of Delaney. “He was a steadying force with that second group and made plays on both ends of the court. He brings a toughness, another guy that played a lot of ball in Europe. He’s seasoned and played in tough environments, tough schedules. He was fabulous tonight.”
For Delaney, it’s just about doing what his coach needs him to do.
“Like I always say, whatever coach needs from me I try to do. Take advantage of my minutes, try to be more aggressive now. Not just to score but to find other people and it’s helping the rhythm...”
Delaney was plus-11 in the final period, and in his last five games he’s averaging 7.4 points per game on 43% shooting from the field, 3.8 assists per game and 0.4 turnovers per game in 20 minutes.
With Isaiah Taylor now out of the rotation (at least for now), the role of backup point guard is Delaney’s and Delaney’s alone.
The big-man rotation conundrum
For the first stretch of this season, the Hawks finally have all of their big men available and healthy (Dedmon is still on a minutes restriction for now but he is at least playing again) and now there’s a problem: there’s too many bodies and not enough minutes.
The Hawks played five bigs in the regular rotation: Ilyasova, Collins, Dedmon, Plumlee and Muscala. Tyler Cavanaugh was out of the rotation but did see 30 seconds of garbage time at the end of the game (and that’s the correct thing that should be happening now that Muscala is healthy again).
We can probably expect at least one of Dedmon or Ilyasova to be moved soon as the trade deadline approaches and this will alleviate some of the big-man cluster but the four bigs the Hawks should be playing every single game are Dedmon, Collins, Ilaysova and Muscala.
Plumlee has been decent (in fact, better than a lot of people would care to admit) and I’ve written about his positive impact for the Hawks in the past, and all that remains true. But he was a means to an end while Dedmon was out and while Muscala was out. But now that they’re back — in addition to Ilyasova and Collins obviously already being around — we don’t need to see Plumlee play excessive minutes every game. And when Dedmon eventually returns to the starting lineup, he probably shouldn’t be playing at all — not at the expense of Collins. If someone has foul trouble, or if Bud wants to extend that rookie leash on Collins, great, you have Plumlee there in reserve. But at this stage it needs to be about Collins over Plumlee.
And when it comes to Plumlee needing to play so he can boost his trade value: don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time for that because it’s not happening anytime soon.
Oh, and by the way: shoutout to the people who shout that Plumlee shouldn’t be playing when he does play but will complain about his contract and say he needs to play to increase his trade value when he isn’t playing...
Sometimes you just can’t win...
200 and counting for Bud
Last night’s victory against the Nuggets marked the 200th of Mike Budenholzer’s career as a head coach and overtook Hubie Brown for 5th place in all time wins for the Hawks in the process.
“I had no idea,” said Bud when told of the milestone. “A lot of credit to our players. I feel very fortunate to have had a lot of great players, including this group. I love coaching them. Very fortunate to be where I am and hopefully there’s a lot more to come.”
Kent Bazemore posted a message on Instagram about the milestone, calling Bud “one of the best men on planet earth.”
The Hawks (11-30) finally return home where they’ll kick off a season-long six game home-stand (and begin a run of nine home games in the next 10 games) starting Friday against the Brooklyn Nets in their fourth and final meeting of the season with the Nets.