Denver Nuggets 115, Atlanta Hawks 123: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets (16-14) got off to a hot start in Atlanta but couldn’t sustain as they dropped a 123-115 result against the Hawks (13-17).

Denver led by nine points in the first quarter, but its struggles on both ends of the floor proved costly for the rest of the contest. The team allowed the Hawks to convert its 13 turnovers into 20 points and seemingly couldn’t defend on pick and rolls. Both factors contributed to a dominant night by Hawks’ star Trae Young.

"Turnovers, once again, we've been talking about that a lot recently," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. "Yes, the defense wasn't anywhere close to where it needed to be, but our offense didn't help us out." 

Jamal Murray continued his hot streak, putting up 30 points to go along with four assists and four rebounds in Denver’s loss. Young was difficult to contain, finishing the night with 35 points, 15 assists, and six boards.

The Nuggets will now head back home with a matchup against their rivals, the Trail Blazers, on Tuesday night (8 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).

Here are the takeaways:

Rough second quarter difficult to overcome

The Nuggets appeared to be headed toward a 2-2 road trip after the first 12 minutes as the team held a 33-27 lead. It unraveled in the second quarter, where Denver was outscored 37-23 by Atlanta.

The Hawks’ bench played a big role, as former Nugget Danilo Gallinari and Tony Snell had six apiece. Clint Capela’s numbers in the quarter might not stand out, he had five, but his defense on Nikola Jokić was certainly impactful. The Nuggets star center shot 1 of 4 in the quarter and was held to two points, one rebound, and one assist in the quarter. Although the Nuggets had just three turnovers in the second quarter, the Hawks were able to expose the visitors’ transition defense for eight points.

Things would snowball at the beginning of the third quarter for the Nuggets, with the group trailing by 22 at the 2:35 mark. Although Denver would fight its way back in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t enough to steal a late victory. Malone attributed some of the Nuggets' defensive issues to missing personnel. 

"I'm worried we have four rotation players out in Gary Harris, P.J. Dozier, Paul Millsap and JaMychael Green," Malone said. "I'm playing a lot of young players, guys that are brand new to the NBA -- they are going to make mistakes. That is why it is hard to play young players and win at a high level on a consistent level. I thought the group we closed the game with competed and played hard." 

Murray agreed with Malone's assessment. 

"It's a learning process," Murray said. "It's not always going to be pretty at the beginning...It's stuff you got to address and go through it and get better."  

Morris proves relentless

The Nuggets found themselves in a 22-point hole in the third quarter, but Monte Morris refused to leave Atlanta without a fight.

Denver’s reserve playmaker threaded the needle on an assist to R.J. Hampton for a thunderous slam and then followed it with a driving layup in the dying seconds of the quarter. Morris continued to be a jolt of energy for Malone’s team in the fourth quarter, putting up five points and three assists in the quarter. The guard would finish the night with 15 points and a season-high seven boards to go along with six dimes.

Facundo Campazzo also contributed to the Nuggets’ rally, adding 16 points and two assists on 4 of 7 shooting on the night.

First start for Zeke

With injuries to Millsap and Green, Zeke Nnaji got a rare opportunity to start. While there were some notable areas for improvement, the rookie also showed some bright spots and finished the game with seven points.

"Obviously, you want to come out with the win in your first start, but I was ready," Nnaji said. "I feel like I've done a lot to prepare for it."

Nnaji’s biggest calling card at the moment is being able to space the floor. When he is hitting his three, he’s a big-time threat for opposing defenses. Although he would hit 1 of 3 from downtown, he still had a positive impact offensively, scoring two buckets at the rim.

Rebounding is an area where Nnaji will need to improve in order for the rookie to secure a consistent spot in Michael Malone’s rotation. The 6-foot-11 big man had just three boards in 30 minutes of action.

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