The Atlanta Hawks returned to action on Monday night but could not return to winning ways as they fell to a 129-122 defeat to the Denver Nuggets at State Farm Arena.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored a career-high 40 points with Dejounte Murray adding 21 points. For the Nuggets, Jamal Murray was one of three Nuggets players who scored 20 or more points with 29.
Both sides entered the game on three-game losing skids, and initially it was the Hawks who looked more likely to be the side that would break that streak, running out to an 11 point lead in the first quarter with Trae Young, Bogdanovic, and Murray combining for 26 of the Hawks’ 36 first quarter points. The Nuggets would eat into that lead in the second quarter — the play of Julian Strawther in particular willing the visitors back into the game as he scored 13 points in the second quarter alone. When Nikola Jokic returned to the game the tide began to shift again and the Nuggets took a slender lead into halftime. Coming out for the third quarter, it was as though the switch had been flipped, and the Nugget went on a run to run the lead the double-digits and, before long, 20 points. A flurry of threes from Bogdanovic amid an 11-point third quarter brought the game down to a manageable 13 points before the tide changed again.
The Hawks were already up against it against the defending champions — on a night without Jalen Johnson and then De’Andre Hunter — but their task became even more difficult when Young took (rightful) exception to a missed call on this play:
Incensed, Young made his displeasure to the officials too known, and receiving the first technical foul did not prevent Young from further arguing his case which led to his second technical foul and ejection as well as a technical foul being called on Hawks head coach Quin Snyder.
“I think it’s best to let that settle and figure it out afterwards,” said Snyder of the ejection. “I can’t comment on it, actually. It’s hard to hear everything on the other side of the court. Those are things that get talked about by people who have an impact on it.”
Young left the game with 19 points and nine assists and the Nuggets were able to halt the Hawk momentum and push their lead back up to 17 points.
The Hawks faced the uphill battle in the fourth and for much of the way it looked a lost cause, but another late run spearheaded by Bogdanovic brought the lead down to as little as four points. But when the officials called for a jumpball after being unsure of who touched the ball last out of bounds after a missed free throw from Saddiq Bey, the Hawks challenged the call and lost not only the challenge after Onyeka Okongwu touched the ball last and their timeout, but also possession of the ball. The Nuggets were then able to ice the game at the line.
“It was a risky challenge,” admitted Snyder postgame. “We were thinking we were going to get the ball to bounce and we didn’t. I’m really good at second guessing everything I do during the course of the game, and we’ll do that too.”
Snyder was proud of how his team fought after the adversity of the third quarter and how the Hawks didn’t give in in a situation where it would have been easy to do so.
“Really proud of our team,” said Snyder in his opening statement. “To play as well as we did early and then I think we were up nine or 10 and they hit a barrage of threes and cut the lead so we didn’t have as much to show for how well we played in the first half. Then obviously the third quarter the game got away. I think it would have been easy — with all the adversity that was going on in the game tonight — for us to give in and that didn’t happen. It was a close game down the stretch and down a player or two, all the things that are facing you, I thought we stayed focus on our execution. That got us back into the game and it’s what allowed us to play well early. When you’re down 20 against the defending world champions it’s easy to give into that, particularly with the size that they had and some of the things going on the court. Really thought we competed and didn’t stop playing.”
Without Hunter and, more so, Johnson, the Hawks were likely to face problems on the glass and that turned out to be the case as the Nuggets turned 14 offensive rebounds into 19 second chance points, Aaron Gordon accounting for seven of those offensive rebounds.
Off of a Murray miss at the rim, Gordon is on-hand to tip in the follow:
Capela has with his hands full with Jokic here, while Gordon has an easier time on the glass against Bogdanovic. And through multiple efforts on this play, he earns himself a trip to the free throw line:
This is a tough spot for the Hawks rebounding-wise unless Okongwu is in with Capela. If Capela is helps on a contest it leaves Jokic free to easily collect an offensive rebound as he did on this possession:
Again, with Capela helping elsewhere, Jokic has an easy time of things and softly collects the offensive rebound and finds a cutting Murray for the dunk:
“A lot of the time I was caught at the top of the key and wasn’t really in the position to go help, especially when Jokic is literally bringing the ball up and throwing the ball in the paint so I found myself behind the action,” said Capela of the rebounding battle. “This team is a championship team and they proved it. Aaron Gordon also did a great job on the glass. They give themselves a chance by going to the glass and getting extra possessions.”
It was obviously a tough spot for Garrison Mathews, who was inserted into the starting lineup and obviously lacks a bit of height in the frontcourt (and this was evidenced on a few rebounds). Still, despite shooting 1-of-5 in 16 minutes, Snyder was pleased with Mathew’s efforts and his aggressiveness.
“I thought he competed,” said Snyder of Mathews. “Giving up size on the glass, and he’s a competitor. He mixed it up, threw himself into the game, he was aggressive shooting the ball when he was open. He didn’t hesitate and did a really good job. Whether he’s starting or he’s not that’s what we need from those guys. I think a lot is made of starting. For him to come in and impact the game like that whether he’s starting or coming off the bench... There was a game he played 1:36, hit a shot and I thought impacted the game.”
Jamal Murray presented the Hawks problems, particularly Young on the block.
He uses his larger frame to carve some space for himself before spinning and hitting:
Rinse and repeat, this time coming out of bounds:
It’s a very difficult matchup for Young but it’s not even those plays that are the bad ones because you’d expect that type of scenario and result if Young is guarding Murray, it’s lapses like these where Young just allows Murray to walk into the paint that can’t happen:
Murray’s second half mostly consisted of him heating up from the outside and he finished with 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the field — an extremely efficient game from Murray but it was a relatively easy 29 points it must be said. You never got the sense the Nuggets broke much of sweat in this game.
Murray’s 29 points was enough for a team-high but not a game-high, because that belonged to the scorching Bogdan Bogdanovic who scored a career high 40 points on 14-of-24 from the field and 10-of-17 from three.
Pull-up threes, threes off screens, you name it and Bogdanovic hit it. His efforts in the third and fourth quarters as the Hawks were heading to a blowout defeat were fantastic, and his teammates on the court made the extra effort to get him the ball where they could while his teammates off the court supported him.
“Having teammates like Patty and Clint, it’s amazing,” said Bogdanovic when asked about his game. “They’re pushing me to another level, reminding me how good I am sometimes. Sometimes you get lost on the floor. It’s not like you don’t have confidence but hearing that from your teammates it’s another level.”
“Insane,” added Capela. “I love it, especially for Bogi. He’s the guy I always see in the weight room with me after games, he’s always the guy I see after practise get more reps than everyone. He deserves it. I don’t feel like he’s skipping steps, he’s doing everything right. When I see 10 threes, I know because he’s putting in the work.”
The scoring outburst wasn’t a huge surprise for Snyder and what he was was pleased about was his teams willingness to find Bogdanovic the ball on what Snyder described as a ‘special’ night for Bogdanovic.
“We’ve seen him do that in stretches, for sure,” said Snyder of Bogdanovic. “I think one of the interesting things about that — significant and good — is that our guys were really aware of finding him. They found him in a lot of different ways, transition, screening actions, pick-and-roll. Both Trae and DJ were locked in trying to get him the ball and not just the guys with the ball but his teammates off the ball were really alert. Sometimes when a guy is that hot it’s hard to continue to get him shots because the defense adjusts. Our guys, having awareness of where he was on the court all the time, and obviously what he did individually, it was a special night. We want that from him, and he’s capable of doing that.”
However, his efforts coming in a loss was a disappointment to Bogdanovic, who refused to allow himself get too caught up in the performance.
“It’s really bitter taste,” said Bogdanovic of his career-high coming in a loss. “It’s tough but there’s another game in two days, that’s the NBA. I’ve learned I cannot relax and cannot be happy and texting on the phone, texting and all of that. I’m 30+ years old so I learn that even you have a good day like this it’s the same: you’ve got to keep doing your routine, keep doing your recovery, keep doing your workouts, shooting. Just keep working. Next game in two games. I can be happy with the individual performance but not really.”
Arguably his efficiency was even better than the boxscore suggested, a couple of his missed threes coming right at the end. He single-handedly dragged the Hawks to even half a chance in this game, a game they had no right to be involved in by the end.
All-in-all, a difficult one for the Hawks in a game that ended being dominated by the officiating. Was it a bad missed call on Young? Yes, absolutely. Was Young right to be upset about the play? Of course he was. Is his first technical understandable? Sure. But at that point you have to let it go, for the sake of the team. On one technical foul, you’re always dicing with danger and Young walked the fine line too tightly.
Elsewhere, the rebounding, second chance scoring, and points in the paint (64-46) were the big difference makers in this contest. The Hawks were efficient in all other areas: field goal percentage, threes, free throws, only 10 turnovers... They played a good game but their issues on the glass were exposed once again and against a team like the Nuggets it was too large of a hole to fill on the night — Gordon was fantastic in that regard, Jokic did Jokic things and Murray had too easy a time of things.
Against the defending champions, given the night that was in it, this wasn’t an awful loss for the Hawks but that will be of scant consolation, now losers of four games in a row.
The Hawks (9-13) are back in action on Wednesday night when they’ll take on the Toronto Raptors (9-14) in two consecutive games in Canada.
Until next time...