The Atlanta Hawks (12-17) came into this matchup with the Denver Nuggets looking to change course and head towards the halfway point in the season on an upswing, having lost five of their last six games and eight of their last ten games. The Nuggets similarly sought consistent results to vault them among the elite in the Western Conference, sitting at 16-13 and winners of four of their last six.
The Hawks continued to be without the services of De’Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn due to long term injuries. The visiting Nuggets entered tonight not at complete health either, missing Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and JaMychal Green among others.
Nate McMillan continued to coach the team in an interim role while Lloyd Pierce tends to the birth of his second child with his wife.
The home team started cold, missing five of their first six shots. Meanwhile, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray — coming off a historic 50-point, no free throw attempt Saturday night — helped Denver slash to the rim at will, propelling the Nuggets to a 12-7 lead on 5-of-7 shooting at the first timeout.
Porter Jr. in particular cooked in the first quarter to the tune of 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting before leaving for the bench having picked up two fouls. The Hawks leaked points, allowing the Nuggets to score 33 points on 13-for-20 (68.4%) from the floor and 4-of-7 (57.1%) from three.
Trae Young did record a savvy steal and assist to set up Kevin Huerter for a triple early, seen below.
No. 6 overall pick Onyeka Okongwu came alive in the first half, screening and rolling to the basket. This along with some impressive defensive play was a boon for the home team in the first half.
Atlanta completely erased an early nine-point gap to lead 37-33 at one point in the second quarter behind some hot shooting from unlikely source Tony Snell, who began 3-for-3 from behind the arc.
Cook up Tony! He's 3/3 from deep tonight pic.twitter.com/YAN7l67Yys— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 22, 2021
This improved play from role contributors, in addition to better defensive pressure and rim protection, helped cool the Nuggets in the second quarter. 2021 All-Star starter Nikola Jokic was a non-factor in the first half, not scoring until the six-minute mark in the second quarter and dishing three turnovers to just one assist.
Young took advantage of lackadaisical transition defense time after time to show off his floater and long passes to dunkers running the floor, like this one to John Collins, causing him to go to the bench for a bit after falling hard on his side.
Atlanta took a 64-56 lead into the halftime break behind 11 points and 8 assists from Young, although the young guard was hit with a technical foul as he headed into the tunnel for jawing with an official. As a team, the Hawks shot 15-of-22 (68.2%) from the field and 4-of-8 (50%) from three in the second quarter for a blistering 77.2 eFG%.
Young picked up where he left off in the third quarter, either scoring or assisting on the first eight field goals for a total of 19 points to push the lead to 17 — the biggest for either team in the game to that point. And the Hawks didn’t stop from there, as Young continued to pour in points from deep, totaling 14 points and five assists in the third quarter alone.
Clint Capela continued to be efficient at finishing lobs, with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting through three quarters. With the Nuggets still struggling to find the basket, the Hawks took a 93-76 lead into quarter number four after topping out with a 22 point lead at one point.
Murray and Monte Morris wouldn’t let the Nuggets go down without a fight, however, and with four field goals and 10 points within the span of two minutes, Coach McMillan was forced to call a timeout to rally the troops with the lead cut to 13.
Still, Atlanta clawed and scratched and kept Denver at arms length with a few clutch stops. The Nuggets couldn’t buy a field goal in the fourth quarter since the 8:19 minute mark until 3:51 — a span of about four and a half minutes that severely hampered all hopes of getting back into the contest.
Collins had a quiet night but showcased some ability to hit shots off the dribble headed to the basket.
For the second time in three games, an opponent deployed a Hack-a-Capela strategy down the stretch of a game but Capela responded by hitting his first two free throw attempts in that situation.
A trio of late Facundo Campazzo triples brought the lead into the single digits at one point, and a Jokic rainbow three brought the lead down to 7 in the last minute, but it was too little too late for the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back.
Young nearly surpassed his season high of 16 assists with 15 shares, and added 35 points on just 19 shots for 1.84 points per shot. As a team, the Hawks shared the ball well, assisting on 29 of 42 (69%) field goals.
Both John Collins and Clint Capela recorded a double-double, with another solid 20-and-10 performance from the center. The Hawks calmly drained their late free throws to ice the game — going 26-of-32 (81.3%) from the charity stripe — to win 123 to 115.