Despite getting two quality looks at the basket in the final seconds, the Atlanta Hawks fell at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, 109-107, on Thursday night. Mike Budenholzer was able to get the match-up he wanted with Paul Millsap on Andre Miller coming out of a timeout with 6.8 seconds remaining, but Millsap’s fadeaway jumper went begging, and while Al Horford was able to snare the offensive rebound, he couldn’t get the put-back jump shot to fall.
The chaotic ending was fitting for what was an intense, back-and-forth battle in Denver. At last count, there were 10 ties and a staggering 22 lead changes in the game, and while there were certainly runs on both sides, these two teams were evenly matched to the extreme during the game. The decisive “run” of the game, however, turned out to be a 9-0 spurt by Denver to set-up their final push, as the Hawks 98-90 advantage was erased in the blink of an eye, and Denver seized control for good.
Paul Millsap and Al Horford were clearly the cream of the crop for the Hawks in the game, and it was the best game of Millsap’s young career in Atlanta. He finished the night with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists, but he did so in just 34 minutes, and his shooting (10 for 15 from the field, 2 for 3 from long-distance) was the epitome of efficiency. Horford was also tremendous (as usual), adding in 21 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks, and this frontcourt duo is really starting to click.
In addition to Millsap and Horford, all 5 Hawks starters were able to notch double-digits in scoring, and it was really a bench advantage that sealed the day for Denver. Kyle Korver (16 points) and Jeff Teague (14 points, 11 assists) each had strong statistical nights, while DeMarre Carroll added 10 points with his normal, above-average effort on the defensive end. Notably, Korver extended his world-famous 3-point streak to a stunning 78 consecutive games, which now places him 3rd on the All-Time NBA list for consecutive games with a 3-pointer.
The bench was weakened with the absence of Dennis Schröder (serving a 1-game suspension), but it almost certainly wouldn’t have mattered much. Denver’s bench featured three players (Nate Robinson, Evan Fournier, Timofey Mozgov) who reached double-figures in scoring, and Robinson’s now-customary outburst against Atlanta is something that seems to be set on “repeat” whenever he squares off with the Hawks. Shelvin Mack performed well in limited action (7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 19 minutes), but the rest of the bench was fairly pedestrian, and Mike Budenholzer (again) elected to administer bench splinters to both Mike Scott and John Jenkins.
Denver was also paced by insanely hot three-point shooting. The Nuggets finished the night at 14-for-25 from beyond the 3-point arc, and while some of that shooting was aided by pure “heat”, the Hawks defense was partly culpable. On the whole, Atlanta’s defensive execution has been strongly lacking throughout the first week-plus of the season, and it’s the single largest issue for the squad at the moment.
In the grand scheme, losing to Denver in the Pepsi Center isn’t an unacceptable outcome, but this one still stings a bit. The Hawks had every opportunity to steal a road win here, and simply couldn’t execute (i.e. get shots to fall) at critical junctures. However, Atlanta will have a chance to get back to the win column when they return home to square off with the division rival Orlando Magic on Saturday night at Philips Arena. Stay tuned.