The Denver Nuggets started Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks looking to get the offense rolling early thanks in large part to the offensive glass as six of their first nine points came off of offensive rebounds. They got out to a 9-0 lead that saw the Hawks go 0-of-3 from the floor before head coach Lloyd Pierce was forced to call a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Nuggets got their fourth assist to put them up by 12 before a Kevin Huerter 3-point shot ended the shutout.

Nikola Jokic had his passing going early, but he wasn’t getting his shot to fall. Jabari Parker and Huerter helped the Hawks cut into Denver’s lead with 10 of the team’s 14 points that saw Denver’s lead get down to just four. After two deep shots didn’t fall for Jokic, he got closer to the basket to get to 2-of-4 for the night. After Atlanta cut Denver’s lead down to three, the Nuggets got a couple of big shots from Paul Millsap, who started the game 5-of-5 for 11 points and four rebounds prior to a break, to stretch it back to eight late in the first.

With a majority of bench players, Will Barton being the lone starter, on the floor the bench was able to keep the lead growing due to their ball movement, as the team had eight assists on 12 made shots. The ball movement continues to improve for the team after they struggled in that area to start the season. With the lead hovering around seven for the final four minutes, the bench was able to get a late bucket out of Jerami Grant to give them a 34 to 25 lead heading into the quarter break.

Out of the break, the Hawks got the lead back down to three as Michael Porter Jr. was struggling to stay close to De’Andre Hunter on the defensive end. Trae Young was stretching the floor with some deep 3-point shots that cut the lead to four. Gary Harris’ shooting woes continued as he was 0-of-5 from the floor, including 0-of-4 from 3-point range.

With the Nuggets’ shooting gone cold, the Hawks were able to cut the lead all the way down to one before Grant got it back to three. Atlanta’s bench was thoroughly outplaying Denver’s bench, which we have seen frequently this season. Following a timeout that saw the Nuggets unable to stretch the lead back out, head coach Michael Malone called for the reinforcements by bringing the starters, minus Harris back into the game. Atlanta then took the lead and went up by five thanks to 9-of-12 shooting halfway through the second quarter.

The Hawks’ hot shooting continued as their lead eventually ballooned to nine with under three minutes left in the half. Unfortunately for Denver, their damage was coming exclusively from missing shots more than anything else. The Nuggets were able to cut the lead to six with less than 10 seconds left. After a Hawks 3-point shot stretched the lead to nine, Denver was unable to get a bucket, and the game went to half 63-54 after a miserable second quarter that the Nuggets were -18 in.

Denver went to work early to cut into the deficit with some good shooting, but Atlanta kept their distance because their shots kept falling. After starting the night 0-of-7, Harris got his sixth 3-point attempt to fall to get the team within six and force a Hawks timeout. Atlanta got out to a 13-point lead before Will Barton got it back to 11. Two possessions later, Barton drained a heat-check 3-point shot to bring the team within eight with under six minutes remaining in the quarter.

Denver was getting dominated in the paint, as they were being outscored by eight, and they couldn’t cut into the lead because they were giving up easy buckets. With less than three minutes to go, the Nuggets were down by 12 which forced a Malone timeout as he went to his bench unit. They kept the deficit about the same, but they couldn’t protect the rim, which allowed the Hawks to keep them at a distance. Denver couldn’t get a run going, and they ended the third quarter down by nine, just like they started the quarter.

While Harris’ offense continued to betray him, Monte Morris and Grant went to work to cut the lead to just three with 10 minutes to go. On the other end, Grant then got a block on rookie Cam Reddish. Morris got a block on Trae Young off of the inbound, but the Nuggets couldn’t convert before Atlanta got back to a five-point lead. Harris responded with a big 3-point shot to cut the lead down to two with 8:45 to go in the fourth. After forcing a Young miss, Harris then got a basket off of a brilliant Jamal Murray pass to tie the game at 101.

Coming out of the timeout, both teams were struggling to put points on the board, but Alex Len broke the tie after a questionable blocking foul was called on Grant. The refs followed that up by calling another questionable delay of game call on Grant on a block that allowed the Hawks to go up by three from the free-throw line. With 6:30 to go, Young nailed a logo-deep 3-point shot to hit 30 points on the night while putting the Hawks up by six and forcing a Denver timeout.

Following the timeout, Denver brought in their starters to close out the game, and Jokic answered the call by hitting his first 3-point shot of the game to cut the deficit to three, and he forced an offensive foul on Young on the other end of the floor. In reply, Young drained another deep 3-point shot to stretch it back to six, as he was up to 8-of-13 from distance on the night. Young kept cooking with a runner from the free-throw line to put them up by eight before Harris nailed a deep two to bring them within six.

Murray was able to draw a foul, and he nailed both free throws to bring them within four with less than three minutes on the clock. The Nuggets forced a few misses by the Hawks, but Hunter stuck with it to put them back up by six. Jokic continued to struggle from 3-point range, as he was 1-of-7 from outside with many of them being wide-open looks. Young then drew a James Hardenesque foul which allowed him to put Atlanta up by six.

With the Nuggets down by five, Young drew another questionable foul that could have prompted a challenge from coach Malone, but he would have been out of timeouts as a result. Atlanta went up by seven, and the Nuggets went into the foul game to try and preserve time, but the Hawks were beginning to salt away their lead with Young hitting the 40-point game on the night.

Denver kept it close down the stretch, as they closed the game. The lead was cut down to just four, but the Nuggets couldn’t hit any 3-point shots to fall, and the game eventually ended 125-121, although the final two came on a garbage-time bucket by Murray. When Jokic, Murray and Harris combine to shoot 3-of-22 from 3-point range, you’re not going to win many games.

Ultimately, the deciding factor in this game was that the Nuggets weren’t able to contain Young, and they didn’t have an offensive player that could match the production that he was putting out. They held him to 15 total points in two games against him last season, and he was firing away all night to go over the 40-point mark. Their defense was struggling, and they couldn’t match the Hawks from downtown either. Atlanta shot 44.1 percent from 3-point range, while the Nuggets were below the 30 percent mark.

When their defense isn’t carrying the load, as it has for much of the team’s first 10 games, the offense has to pick up the slack, and it didn’t. The Nuggets offense finally showed signs of life, but it wasn’t enough as they came up short.

Stat Leaders

Points: Will Barton, 21

Rebounds: Will Barton, 9

Assists: Jamal Murray, 8

Player of the Night: Will Barton – 8-of-16 shooting, 4-of-7 3-point shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal