Atlanta came into tonight losers of their last five games, including averaging almost 12 points per losing margin. Nate McMillan’s team was clearly searching for answers as aspirations of a top-4 seed in the East begin to slip away.
The Hawks welcomed the return of De’Andre Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic from injury, meaning that with the exception of Onyeka Okongwu the Hawks came into tonight as healthy as could be, The Nuggets, on the other hand, were notably missing Jamal Murray still recovering from an ACL tear and Michael Porter Jr, recovering from back problems.
Clint Capela continued his trend of being involved early in games with a couple of baskets in the opening minutes. This feed by Trae Young punctuated a quick start for Atlanta.
Still, the Nuggets showed their resolve in eventually taking charge. The Nuggets’ bench mob that included “Bones” Hyland, P.J. Dozier and JaMychal Green, clawed their way to a 32-21 lead at one point. Atlanta gave up a couple of run out layups off live ball turnovers and ended up ceding 24 points in the paint alone to Denver.
The Hawks quickly found themselves down 32-25 at the first break behind Nikola Jokic’s 11 points and three assists in the first quarter. But the visitors would put together an 17-2 run across the first two quarters to overtake Denver with a flurry of nifty dimes including the below.
The Nuggets committed a number of early fouls in the second quarter, putting the Hawks in the bonus with over 10 minutes left in that period. Atlanta used that opportunity to be aggressive and attack the basket whenever possible. The Hawks would take the lead eventually in the second quarter despite being down double digits at one point in the first quarter.
Mike Malone quickly inserted his starting lineup with over seven minutes left in the half after a Huerter make made for a 36-34 Hawks lead, and the game remained thoroughly competitive from there. After the hot start from both teams, both Atlanta and Denver combined for just 38 points in the second quarter.
At the break down three points, Young was the high man for Atlanta with 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting. As a team, the Hawks were shooting just 19-for-44 (43%) from the field and 3-for-11 (27%) from three. But they did hold the Nuggets to under 40% shooting from the field and just 2-for-18 (11%) from three.
Denver surged to a quick 7-0 run after half to push the lead to 10, forcing Coach McMillan to call timeout and regroup the troops. The Hawks would claw back, however, behind their floor general Young finding teammates with on-point passes. The whip pass to the corner below is a good example of just that.
But the Hawks couldn’t quite get a firm stronghold in the contest, with Denver seemingly having an answer for every Atlanta blow. After pulling to within two points at 65-63, the Nuggets went on a 13-2 run to push the lead back to double digits. The Hawks stared down a 10-point deficit heading into the final period.
With Young on the bench with foul fouls, Atlanta tried desperately to stay in the game. But Hyland and the Nuggets slammed the door shut with a pair of long triples, forcing Atlanta into desperation mode halfway through the fourth quarter.
John Collins’ energy near the basket on both ends and Young’s penetration tried to keep Atlanta in the contest, but it was too little too late and the Hawks sank to their sixth loss in as many games. Despite hanging in there until the final buzzer, Atlanta took yet another defeat, 105-96.
Collins finished the game with 26 points on 11-of-22 (50%) shooting and a game-high 39 minutes played. Young added an efficient 30 points on 16 shots. But the Hawks were clearly let down by their ancillary players. As a team. Atlanta finished with 38-of-93 (41%) shooting from the field and just 5-of-28 from three (18%). They ceded 100 points to an opponent for the ninth straight contest and remained out of the form they showed in the second half of the previous season.
The Hawks return home to take on the reigning NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.