The Atlanta Hawks lost their sixth straight game as they were blown out in spectacular fashion, losing by 45 points in the end — 138-93 — against the Denver Nuggets in the Pepsi Center on Thursday night.
Jeremy Lin led the Hawks in scoring with 16 points while Kent Bazemore added 14 points in limited minutes. For the Nuggets, Juan Hernangomez led with 25 points while Gary Harris and former Hawks Paul Millsap added 18 each as seven Nuggets players scored in double-digits.
Where to even start with this one...hard to say in 45-point loss.
Firstly, I hope you didn’t watch this game because not only was it a late game in my favorite time zone, Mountain Time Zone (sorry, I’m Irish and that time zone just sounds funny to me, Mountain Time...) but the Hawks were as bad as it got — arguably one of the worst performances we’ve seen from the Hawks under Lloyd Pierce so far.
When the majority of the second half is garbage time, you know it’s just not a good time for anyone...
Being outscored 36-16 in the third quarter doesn’t help but, to be honest, by the time the Nuggets had finished their 20-3 run in that third period, the game was already over in many ways as the Nuggets had already established a double-digit lead well before that reeled off that run and the Hawks never really looked like they’d actually overturn the deficit and come back.
They say ‘start as you mean to go on’ and the Hawks did exactly that as they found themselves down 0-13 to begin this game, and that opening punch from the Nuggets was key in this game: it obviously got the Hawks on the back-foot early, it established a comfortable lead for the Nuggets and just gave them some added freedom on the court.
The Hawks did show some fight in the first half, when the Nuggets pushed the lead to 13/15 points the Hawks — on a few occasions — were able to get it back to 10 points but the Nuggets responded every time the Hawks did get it back to 10 and eventually it was just too much — the Hawks (barring one instance where they trailed 13-4, which doesn’t really count) never got this lead back under 10 once that 13-0 run was over.
We’ll take a look at that opening exchange, that 13-0 Nuggets run to begin the game because, arguably, that’s where this game was ultimately won, knowing what we know now of course.
The Nuggets obviously run a lot of what they do through Nikola Jokic and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he was at the fore of what the Nuggets did from the get-go here against the Hawks.
To begin the Nuggets run, Jokic flashes across the paint, gets a screen from Gary Harris on Alex Len, receives the pass from Millsap and hits the jumper:
Jokic was a bit more direct on his next basket, sizing up Len with a jab before rising into the jumpshot which he hits over Len:
It was an awful game for Alex Len in general, who was just roasted by Denver’s bigs...
The Nuggets like to cut around Jokic as he handles the ball, and Hernangomez gets the better of Bazemore and Jokic drops the pass to the cutting Hernangomez for the basket:
Not amazing from Bazemore and DeAndre’ Bembry (starting for the injured Taurean Prince) did get rotate over but not a ton he could do once he did.
After a Hawks miss, Millsap is ahead of the pack and is able to establish position on Vince Carter and is able to spin and hook it home after he receives the outlet pass from Jokic:
Sprinkle in a three-pointer from Gary Harris and there you have a 13-0 run to begin the game from the Nuggets. How about from the Hawks?
The Hawks started this one with a lot of looks from the three-point line — all misses.
Kent Bazemore got things started as he misses this contested three after the hand-off from Spellman:
Omari Spellman jacked up a lot of shots last night and a lot of threes in this early exchange, missing this one, possibly fazed by the late contest by Millsap (who was more than happy to just leave him alone from three):
The Nuggets were also able to do some bits defensively, helped by the Hawks’ offense/turnovers.
Here, Trae Young drives inside, tries to drop a pass underneath the rim but Millsap intercepts and comes up with the steal, a turnover for the Hawks:
On the drive from the baseline from Len, Jokic is able to get a hand on the ball, disrupting the offensive possession (this was credited as a block for Jokic):
The Hawks started 0-for-8 before Miles Plumlee eventually ended the skid but the damage was done by then and the Nuggets quickly pushed this thing to 16 points and, of course, well beyond that afterwards.
The obvious excuses people will be rushing to for this loss is ‘third game of the road trip’ but more so the altitude teams have to play when they come to Denver.
Even though the altitude is obviously a factor, Lloyd Pierce really didn’t want the altitude to be the source of any excuse for his side. Instead, Pierce blamed the Hawks’ lack of effort (and he wasn’t wrong to do so).
“First, it wasn’t the altitude,” began Lloyd Pierce postgame. “It was the lack of effort. This one stung ... it’s frustrating again when you have to speak to effort. This one wasn’t any fun. There’s no excuses, we’re missing bodies or whatever the case may be. This is about us. This is about us coming together a little bit better than we did today ... tonight, we didn’t have it for some reason.”
I’m assuming Pierce wouldn’t agree with this tweet from the Hawks’ official Twitter postgame:
Despite the slow start, coach Pierce believed that the Hawks weren’t out of the game at that point and, again, pointed towards the Hawks’ lack of effort as to why this game got away from his side.
“...First and foremost you got to come out and put forth the effort that’s needed right from the jump,” said Pierce on the start of the game. “We got off to a slow start ... myself included, we’ve got to come out with a little more urgency to the game. The start was what it was but we weren’t out of it. We battled back in the first and got it to about 11 and we stayed around 11 for most of the first half. We had opportunities. We let it get away from us and we let the effort part get away from us. Shots aren’t going to fall all of the time, we understand that, but the effort has to be there.”
Whether it’s been in the first or third quarter, the Hawks — more often than not — have been the team to receive the first punch rather than give it.
“Collectively, we all know as a group that that effort and lack of competitive nature, that lack of wanting it is never going to get it done, especially in a league filled with the best players in the world,” said rookie Omari Spellman postgame. “Collectively, we all got to look at ourselves in the mirror and just be ready to bring it the next day. Put this one behind us but at the same time remember what this felt like and try to never let it again.”
“We do it far too often,” said Spellman on starting off slow. “With JC (John Collins) being out, me getting the starting role, I’m a part of that (the slow starts). That’s not acceptable on my part and nobody’s part that we keep starting like that. It’s not good, we got to find a way to get off to better starts, to compete from the jump and stop waiting until we get punched in the mouth to compete and competing for 48 minutes.”
Spellman spoke with a real sense of frustration for what happened last night. It was a very genuine interview, he was not happy and nor should anyone with how the Hawks played last night.
I think part of that frustration from Spellman is also because he himself was one of a few rookies who struggled last night (despite putting up a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds). Spellman took a career-high 15 (!!) shots last night, making just four of them and missing all seven of his three-pointers.
Fellow rookie Trae Young was basically non-existent in this game — 2-of-11 from the field for just six points as his cold streak continued. Young has had games where he has struggled but still made an impact, usually with his playmaking. He had five assists and five turnovers last night but his impact in this game was as minimal as it has been in his young (no pun intended) career so far. And that’s fine — he’ll have games like this but just a rough one for Young...
Kevin Huerter had a better time of things as he got the bulk of the minutes vacated by Prince — 10 points for Huerter in 28 minutes and some nice flashes last night of what he can do.
One of my favorite plays from Huerter last night was this pull-up three-pointer that he took in transition:
I personally loved this shot and I think the Hawks do too. Lloyd Pierce has talked about empowering his players and I think this is the shot they want Huerter to be comfortable taking when the opportunity allows. Huerter just looked a bit more confident last night — he got some good looks that he missed but I thought Huerter was solid last night.
Not a rookie, but Alex Poythress really impressed last night — 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field but his passing was really fun to watch. Four assists for Poythress last night, who continues to showcase himself to the Hawks and the league.
Let’s look at some, since this was one of a few positives from last night.
In a pick-and-roll with Vince Carter, Poythress has the defense’s attention, forcing the rotation, before makes the pass to the corner to the open Kevin Huerter for three:
Here, nothing too fancy but Poythress hesitates ever so slightly before making the nice pass to his right to find Lin for three:
I liked how that little hesitation also got Millsap off of his feet before Poythress made that pass.
In the second half, Poythress receives the ball in the weak-side corner, fakes to shed Millsap, drives and then kicks it out behind the the arc to Jeremy Lin, who hits the three:
Poythress also showed nice hustle to save the possession on this seemingly lost cause after Bazemore’s pass down the court is a tad long, going into the crowd in the process and eventually led to Young free throws:
As for some of his baskets last night, most of them came in garbage time but that didn’t take away from the quality of them.
Here, Poythress starts from the three-point line and spins his way inside and past Hernangomez for the dunk:
Here, Poythress comes up with the steal and takes it all of the way and finishes with the dunk:
These aren’t major things but all encouraging to see — Poythress was the one player that was fun to watch last night.
More and more it seems as though there could be a permanent roster spot awaiting Poythress once his 45-days of NBA service are up (of course, Poythress signed to a two-way contract) and the man he’ll likely replace, Daniel Hamilton, made his NBA debut in the massively extended garbage time last night.
Hamilton was scoreless in his seven minutes on the court and there is really nothing else to say in this spot but at least he got a chance to actually play.
An absolutely brutal loss for the Hawks in a game where hardly anyone played well. They’re now 3-12 and will look to end this losing streak in Indiana on Saturday.