Denver Nuggets 123, Atlanta Hawks 115: Three takeaways
Nikola Jokić got hot early and wouldn’t be denied on his way to a career-high 47 points as the Nuggets got back to winning ways against the Hawks in a 125-115 result Monday.
With Denver having dropped two of its last three games, the 24-year-old was relentless from the tip-off. His assertiveness was pivotal in getting his teammates back on track. Trae Young led the Hawks with 29 points, 12 assists and seven turnovers.
"Just liked how aggressive he was," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said of Jokić's performance after the game. "He had it going from early on in the game so that was great to see."
Coming off a disappointing loss to the Washington Wizards over the weekend, Jokić and Will Barton III ensured the Nuggets wouldn’t get off to another slow start against an inferior opponent. The two men combined for 24 of Denver’s 29 points in the first quarter on 9-of-14 shooting.
Entering the second quarter trailing by two, the Nuggets’ defense appeared to mirror Jokić’s approach on the other end. After shooting 47.6 percent in the first quarter, Atlanta slipped to 41 percent in the second quarter. Denver would go on a 14-3 run sparked by Barton III’s eight points in the quarter and the visitors would take their largest lead of the night at 49-39. The Nuggets went into halftime with a 64-56 lead, but the home team would respond in the second half.
The Hawks went on a 9-2 run midway in the third quarter thanks to three-consecutive triples from deep by Kevin Huerter, cutting the score to 71-69. Once again, Barton III and Jokić would protect the Nuggets’ lead as the two men hit some late buckets in the third to give the team a five-point lead entering the final 12 minutes of the game.
In the fourth quarter, Jamal Murray put aside some early game struggles to help his teammates ice the game. The Nuggets point guard shot 3-of-10 in the first three quarters but converted 3 of 5 in the final 12 minutes – including two clutch shots in the final 2:36 of the game.
Denver now concludes its longest road trip of the season at Dallas Wednesday.
Here are the takeaways
Golden Joker in the A
Jokić set the tone early for the Nuggets, scoring seven points in the opening five minutes of the contest. The 24-year-old’s wound up with a career-high 27 points in the first half on 64 percent shooting. It was a much-needed catalyst for a Nuggets team that had struggled putting away sub .500 teams in recent games.
Jokić would seal his career night with a dominant second half, reaching 40 points by the third quarter and topping his previous career high of 43 in the final 12 minutes. The center got his 47th point on the night with a made free throw with 11.9 seconds remaining.
"I was feeling good out there, I was getting to the line and I was aggressive. Being aggressive helped a lot," Jokić told Altitude's Chris Dempsey after the game.
"He was in attack mode all game and when he gets like that, I don't think anyone can stop him," Jokić's teammate Paul Millsap added.
Prior to the game, Malone called for his team to show increased leadership. Jokić let his game do the talking Monday night.
It was Barton III’s 29th birthday, but the small forward was the one giving gifts in the form of buckets Monday. The veteran, now in his ninth season, scored a season-high 28 points on 60 percent shooting, countlessly coming through in timely moments for Denver.
"You always want to come out play well on your birthday," Barton III told Altitude radio after the game. "More importantly, I wanted to be aggressive. I felt like I hadn't been aggressive over the past couple of games and I just wanted to get back to myself."
It was Barton III’s surge in the second quarter that gave the Nuggets an early edge and his two threes in the fourth quarter helped quiet the Hawks when they appeared to go on a run. Barton III’s was also a force on the boards and helping run the offense, as he added nine rebounds and five dimes.
Finally, Barton III might be one year closer to 30, but he showed he’s got plenty of hops with arguably the play of the game late in the second quarter. Jokić forced a turnover and found Murray and Barton III charging towards the rim on a two-man break. Murray leapt and threw a one-hand lob to Barton III for the alley opp. Barton III caught the ball in the air and fiercely crushed the one-handed slam. Moments later, Vince Carter – one of the greatest dunkers of all-time, appeared to joke with Barton III at the free-throw line. It was a jaw-dropping play from a player who showed he’ll be thrill-ing audiences for years to come.
Monte’s stays hot
Monte Morris ran the second unit effectively and his recent uptick on scoring continued, with the reserve guard chipping in 14 points and four boards on 6-of-9 shooting. Before Wednesday’s game, Morris had been averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals on 58.3 percent shooting in his last three games, including 40 percent from downtown. That’s a solid improvement from Morris, who is averaging 7.1 points on 43.7 shooting on the season.