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Recap: Nuggets annihilate Hawks 138-93 as Jamal Murray comes off the bench

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With a surprise addition to the starting lineup, the Nuggets looked like a team that needed a win badly, and they got one.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets throttled the Atlanta Hawks tonight with the final score a cool 138-93, and it was as one-sided of an affair as it sounds. Juancho Hernangomez led all scorers with 25 points, and the Nuggets had seven players in double figures. Trae Young was held to just six points and five assists to go with five turnovers.

The big news of this game was Denver changing their starting lineup, only in a way Nuggets may not have expected. Jamal Murray moved to a sixth man role this game, and Monte Morris replaced him in the starting five. The move didn’t affect the Nuggets negatively in any way, as they leapt out to a 16-4 lead before Murray checked in with about six minutes left to go in the first quarter. Jokic started the game well with his jumper, hitting two midrange attempts and three-pointer on a Gary Harris pitch back.

The story of the first quarter was defense. Denver did a great job of forcing the ball out of Trae Young’s hands and making other players score. Atlanta starters accumulated just four points in the first quarter, and while the Atlanta bench did a nice job of recovering, Denver maintained a 35-23 advantage after 12 minutes.

Mason Plumlee accumulated three quick fouls to end the first and start the second quarter, so Jokic returned quickly. He played mostly excellent defense in the first half, save for a few business decisions. Murray and Trey Lyles picked up the bench scoring, pouring in 19 points off of a variety of perimeter looks created by others and each other. The offense was truly firing on all cylinders, and while Jokic’s passing numbers didn’t jump off the page, he was absolutely dealing tonight.

Jokic finished the half second on the Nuggets in plus-minus with a plus-20 (Juancho Hernangomez was a plus-22) and everything seemed to be pretty easy for him. The Nuggets took on his personality offensively and scored 73 points in the first half, going up on Atlanta 73-57.

Entering the third quarter, the Nuggets were in the awkward zone where they were comfortably ahead of the Hawks but close enough that Atlanta could make it a game if things went wrong. Denver made sure to extend the lead, starting the third on a 12-5 run with every Nugget getting in on the action. Hernangomez started getting involved as a scorer, crashing the glass, and playing with immense energy. Jokic also dominated this quarter. The scoring wasn’t there, but his presence on the court and ability to get the ball to the right place showed through in spades. Denver’s offense and defense maximized their potential on both ends and turned game into garbage time through three quarters, leading 109-73.

The entire fourth quarter consisted of garbage time, and nothing notable happened other than Monte Morris and Torrey Craig coming out pretty early and going back to the locker room. Juancho hit his season high tonight with 25 points, and the Nuggets took this one in resounding fashion with a final score 138-93.

What the Stiffs said to watch:

The chemistry on offense

So, yeah. That was fun. The Nuggets put up 138 tonight, and it came from a variety of outlets. Hernangomez led all scorers with 25, but Paul Millsap and Gary Harris added 18 each, Jokic had 12 points and seven assists, and the ball was simply POPPING.

Can the defense bounce back?

A resounding yes. It wasn’t perfect, but with the offense being absolute flames, Denver had some wiggle room to make a few mistakes if the overall product was solid. And it was. Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic were incredible for most of their minutes, accumulating a combined eight steals and three blocks and making Trae Young’s life hell. The Hawks aren’t a good team, but Denver made sure they took care of business on both ends.

Can the bench unit continue to execute?

The nature of this question was changed by Jamal Murray’s surprise bench appearance, but the answer was still yes. Elevated by the scoring prowess of the Murray-Lyles Canadian duo, the Nuggets bench continued to score even with the switch. The defense dropped off a bit, but Morris the better defender, so that’s no surprise. Toward the end, the offensive execution dropped off in garbage time, but the damage was already done. A solid performance from the bench tonight.

Another thing that happened: Let’s talk about Jamal Murray

First, I have to commend Murray for how he handled coming off the bench tonight. After showing a lack of aggression and decisiveness with the starting lineup, Murray put on a display tonight, scoring from all three levels. Most importantly, he was aggressive and locked in from behind the arc, hitting three of his six three-point attempts, many of which looked like this one.

My guess (and some other Stiffs’ guess) is that this is a one-game thing on something minor that Malone looks to motivate the team going forward. Jamal Murray has the mental fortitude to take his lumps coming off the bench for one game, and I expect him to be back in the starting lineup on Saturday, regardless of the result tonight.