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Nuggets feast in paint as Hawks fall short in Denver

One to forget for the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta Hawks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to follow their Golden State success with a victory in Denver, falling short to the Nuggets 126-102 on Sunday night.

Trae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 21 points while Danilo Gallinari added 14 points off of the bench.

For the Nuggets, JaMychal Green led the way with 20 points off of the bench in addition to all five starters scoring in double-digits, including the debut of recently acquired Aaron Gordon who scored 13 points. Speaking of recently acquired, the Hawks were without Lou Williams, who will likely link up with the team in Phoenix but it’s unknown when he will play.

This game marks game number five in the Hawks’ eight-game road trip as the games rack up on the road here with minimal rest. Playing in Denver on such a stretch is one of the toughest games of the season and would require everything, and more, for the Hawks to overcome a very strong Denver Nuggets side that are rolling right now.

The Hawks fell short in this regard, tailing off in this game after opening the game with a 35 point first quarter. The Hawks kept pace with the Nuggets for most of the first half but a 13-0 Nuggets run towards the end of the second quarter put some distance between them. To start the third quarter, the Nuggets put together a quick 8-0 run to put themselves up by 18 points and while the Hawks had opportunities to cut it to a 10 point game after Young got going in the third, the Hawks suffered a long evening in Denver, looking flat and tired at times.

One aspect of this game that really got away from the Hawks was Denver’s ability to score in the paint/at the rim. For the game, the Nuggets scored 50 points in the paint, 36 of them coming in the first half, and it did not take long for the Nuggets to run that up to 40 in the second half. The Nuggets found themselves with quite a number of easy looks at the rim, so we’ll look at some of these.

The first clip comes from the first possession, and perhaps this truly was a sign of things to come as Trae Young commits the first of his seven turnovers, fueling the Nuggets’ fast break. The Hawks are slow to get back, with multiple Nuggets players getting to the rim ahead of the Hawks before Will Barton makes the extra pass to Michael Porter Jr. for the dunk at the rim:

As Nikola Jokic holds the ball around the nail, Jamal Murray sets a great screen on John Collins, freeing up Aaron Gordon for the easy dunk at the rim on the find by Jokic:

The Nuggets make quite a number of cuts in the half-court — as they should, when you have someone who can pass the ball like Jokic — and former Hawk Paul Millsap catches Solomon Hill napping as he cuts and is found by Jokic:

On this possession, John Collins is drawn to the perimeter by Paul Millsap, leaving no real interior defense to help as the ball is thrown into JaMychal Green, who has an easy task of finishing at the rim:

On more than one occasion last night, the Nuggets caught the Hawks out of position in transition. On the inbounds, Jokic tosses the ball forward to Jamal Murray, who easily beats Young with his size and strength at the rim:

Here was another scenario where the Hawks were too slow getting back, and while Michael Porter Jr. isn’t able to convert on the lob attempt, it just highlights how the Nuggets pressed their advantage:

Again, the Nuggets easily beat the Hawks in transition for the layup at the rim:

The Nuggets didn’t have any real difficulty scoring at the rim, the Hawks did at times as the length and size of the Nuggets deterring the Hawks (though, thankfully for the Hawks, Young’s floater was falling last night. Had it not been falling, this would’ve been an even longer night).

What also helped the Hawks hang around as long as they did was the fact they hit nine three-pointers in the first half alone, with Kevin Huerter finding some form again behind the arc, knocking down 2-of-3 in the first half.

Not a ton else went well for the Hawks last night, it really was one to forget.

Postgame, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan repeatedly mentioned that the Hawks, including himself, were distracted by the officiating in the game as well as failing to make in-game adjustments to slow the Nuggets down.

“I thought we got distracted by the officiating, me included,” said McMillan when asked what went wrong defensively. “We never really established our defense, I didn’t make adjustments during the course of this game as far as adjustments to how they were attacking us. I thought we just got caught up in the officiating, the lack of no calls and we can’t do that. You got to focus on the game, keep your attention on the game and I thought early in the game we got distracted by that. We didn’t make adjustments appropriately and they pretty much controlled the game from start to finish.”

When asked if the Hawks were tired, McMillan again referenced the officiating before mentioning the Nuggets’ paint points and the ease of which they came.

“We did look a little fatigued but I thought it was more distraction in that first quarter,” said McMillan. “Even though we won that quarter, there was a few plays where we felt should’ve been fouls called. I thought we got a little distracted by that. Defensively, we really weren’t stopping them. They were playing in our paint. I didn’t recall how many points they had in the first quarter but they were dominating in the paint, everything was coming easy for them. We didn’t make adjustments and we should have made adjustments on how we were defending and that was pretty much the ball-game.”

Young was asked about the officiating postgame after McMillan had mentioned it but didn’t want to get too drawn into it.

“The refs, you’ve got to just play,” said Young. “We’re on the road and there’s some obvious ones that I don’t want to get into. It’s over with, the game’s over with now, we’ve just got to move on and not let the officials mess with us and what we’ve got going on.”

Danilo Gallinari took a different approach in his postgame comments when asked, saying that the Hawks need to focus on themselves than on the officiating, adding that the Hawks weren’t there on both ends of the floor.

“We need to focus on ourselves and on the game-plan, offensively and defensively. We cannot lose energy or waste any energy talking to the officials,” said Gallinari. “We make mistakes as players and refs can make mistakes in their job. Every one makes mistakes. We need to focus on ourselves and tonight I didn’t think we bring it offensively and defensively.”

Young felt any issues with fatigue was more so due to the altitude more so than the Hawks’ miles racking up on their long road-trip.

“Definitely the altitude, here and in Utah are two places where it’s kind of tough where you’ve got to get your feet under you or you’re going to be pretty tired, drink a lot of water the day before, things like that,” said Young. “I don’t know, maybe it affected us early on. It’s definitely a different feeling when you play here, and in Utah with the altitude. Being on the east coast, you don’t play here all the time. Definitely an adjustment you have to make but I think the guys are feeling good.”

A bit of a strange direction from McMillan to lean into the officiating postgame. Naturally, with McMillan bringing that up unprompted, the rest of the postgame comments ended up stemming from questions of officiating — it was a strange postgame theme. I mean, sure, there were a few calls missed (Bogdan Bogdanovic didn’t appear to be too pleased at times on the court) but the same is true in every game. It didn’t look egregious like, for example, last season’s game in Phoenix with the blocking/charge shenanigans — it wasn’t even nearly on the same level, so it was an interesting direction for McMillan to lean with in his comments.

There is honestly not a lot more to say about this game: it was just one to forget for the Hawks.

Not a ton of players really played well, the Hawks looked a bit tired (more than likely due to a multitude of reasons such as travel and altitude on a long trip), the defense was poor, the offense was, arguably, worse — the definition of a schedule loss. There is little point being too upset about games like this, there is not too much to take away: you just move onto the next one and the Hawks won’t have time to reflect too much on this game because an arguably even tougher one awaits...

The Hawks (23-23) are back in action on Tuesday night as their road trip continues against the Phoenix Suns (31-14).

Atlanta’s yearly trip to Phoenix is usually an entertaining/intriguing one and certainly has been for the last number of seasons, even when both teams were lottery sides and even before that when the Hawks were a playoff team, this fixture often caused issues.

Should be interesting...

Until next time...