The Nuggets came out like they were on the fourth game of a six day road trip, lacking energy and turning the ball over. Zeke Nnaji finally opened the scoring for Denver with a three point jumper. The Hawks started off cold as well, going 2/8 to begin the game. About 3 minutes in, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. began trading baskets and the hoop seemed to get larger for both teams. Hawks took the first timeout with 6:58 left in the quarter; Nuggets led 12-9.
Out of the timeout, the pace began to quicken and both teams struggled to get stops. Finally, Michael Porter Jr. of all people stopped the bleeding with a nice weak side block on Trae Young’s layup attempt; this led to a transition three for Will Barton. The next possession was a quick Denver steal leading to an MPJ layup that saw the Nuggets lead grow to 7.
The substitutions began taking the court and in his first rotation minutes in some time, Bol Bol immediately hit an easy layup with a simple cut to the basket and sweet dish by Campazzo. A couple minutes later, he also hit a corner three. Jokic struggled to score all quarter and it followed over when he finally made it to the free throw line, missing the first and making the second. Atlanta did most of their damage at the hoop and if more of their jumpers start falling they could get the lead back quickly. For now, Nuggets lead 33-27 to end the first.
Our old friend Danilo Gallinari hit a three off of a late defensive rotation on the Hawks first possession and Malone took a rage timeout 16 seconds into the quarter. The bench proceeded to give up the rest of their lead as Atlanta started the quarter on a 10-0 run.
The Nuggets offense turned into too much standing around, as we see so often when Jokic leaves the court. The Hawks started to run a zone defense and Denver couldn’t figure it out. On the defensive end, 52% three point shooter Tony Snell was repeatedly left open at the three point line and he predictably made Denver pay.
Cook up Tony! He's 3/3 from deep tonight pic.twitter.com/YAN7l67Yys— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 22, 2021
Then Monte Morris got hot and scored six straight to put the Nuggets back up by 2. Jokic returned, but continued his form from the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Hawks were getting to the basket at will and went on a 8-0 run to go back up 51-47.
Jamal hit a tough three, but the Hawks run continued to a point where they had their largest lead of the game at 10 points. This extended 21-9 run looked to be largely fueled by tired legs and lazy turnovers by the Nuggets. The Hawks were out-hustling them on both ends. Denver scored the last bucket of the half and went into the break down 56-64.
Trae Young must have still be fired up from the technical he was called for at the end of the half because he came out on fire. The Nuggets actually started the half well, but once Trae really got going, Atlanta started to build on that lead. Nikola didn’t snap out of his shooting slump at halftime and was down to 3/12 from the field. No one else stepped up to take some of the scoring burden off Nikola and just like that, the Hawks were up 17. Timeout Nuggets with 4:37 left in the quarter.
The Hawks continued to tear Denver up off pick and rolls, dribble penetration and Trae Young’s heroics. Their lead ballooned to 23 before a Campazzo three and Hampton dunk sparked a mini 5-0 run for Denver. The deficit was cut to 17 by the end of a second straight rough quarter. 93-76 Hawks.
Through three quarters...— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 22, 2021
4/6 3PM pic.twitter.com/19id0iYAnh
It’s going to take a tremendous effort to get back into this game and you have to wonder if the road trip fatigue can be overcome. Maybe Jokic was just saving his makes for the final quarter.
Jumpers were still coming up short to start the quarter, but Denver’s aggression and energy had at least picked up on both ends. It didn’t net any immediate results, as they over gambled on defense and Atlanta made them pay. Still, you got the sense that the Nuggets weren’t going to let a lack of effort in the fourth be the reason they lost. Back to back threes by Jamal and Monte and the lead was cut to 13, timeout Hawks.
When we returned, both teams started trading baskets and the Nuggets were unable to build on their run. With 4:07 left in the game, the Hawks were now up 15 and time was beginning to run out on the Nuggets comeback hopes.
With just under two minutes left, Facundo hit a pair of threes to take the deficit down to 8 with a chance at the miraculous. That was as the close as the Nuggets would come, however, as they put up some more points, but couldn’t force turnovers. Instead, they sent Atlanta’s players to the free throw line where they put Denver away.
In the end, Denver dug themselves too deep of a hole in the second and third quarters to climb all the way out of. Trae Young’s 35 points and 15 assists and Clint Capela’s defense and ultra-efficient 22 points and 10 rebounds led the Hawks past the Nuggets in a somewhat competitive affair. The Nuggets are missing key contributors and had every right to be tired, but a team of Atlanta’s caliber is still vulnerable enough to beat.