Denver Nuggets 121, Atlanta Hawks 125: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

On some nights, a star player can take over and will his team to victory. Unfortunately for the Denver Nuggets, that player was Trae Young on Tuesday, who put on an All-Star performance to lead the Hawks to a surprising 125-121 win at Pepsi Center.

"Give them credit, give Trae Young credit," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "He came in here and did exactly what we knew he would do. He dominated the game from beginning to end."

Denver (7-3) jumped out to a fast start, grabbing a 12-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game. Paul Millsap was active on the offensive glass, with three rebounds during that stretch. Although the Hawks began to get second chances on the offensive boards (four offensive rebounds in the quarter), Denver took a 34-25 lead into the second frame. Millsap led the way with 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field.

Atlanta (4-6) used a 23-11 run throughout the beginning and middle stages of the second quarter to get back into the game. The Hawks got hot from deep in that stretch, as they knocked down four 3-pointers, including three from Young. The 3-point onslaught continued down the stretch of the frame, as Atlanta extended its lead to 58-47. The Hawks knocked down seven 3-pointers in the second quarter alone, as they outscored the Nuggets 38-20 in the frame to take a 64-54 lead into halftime.

The Nuggets began to chip away at the lead in the opening minutes of the second half, but Atlanta’s hot 3-point shooting continued and preserved the lead midway through the third quarter. Denver’s defense wasn’t able to generate stops on a consistent basis, as the Hawks took a 98-89 lead into the final quarter. Young dropped 10 points and four assists in the quarter to lead the way for Atlanta.

The Nuggets’ defense stepped up to begin the final frame. After generating several stops, a 5-0 run from Gary Harris tied the game at 101 with just over eight minutes remaining. However, Young and Atlanta’s offense proved to be too much down the stretch, which led to the disappointing home loss for Denver.

"I'm not going to put the loss on our players," Malone said. "We win together, we lose together, and we'll watch film tomorrow and learn from this."

Here are some takeaways from Denver’s loss:

Young couldn’t be stopped

Trae Young put on a show for the Pepsi Center crowd on Tuesday, as his combination of 3-point shooting, passing and ball-handling put constant pressure on Denver’s defense. The second-year guard finished with season-high 42 points and 11 assists (8-of-13 from three), as his mix of playmaking and shooting was Steve Nash-esque.

"Tonight wasn't an aberration," Malone added. "This is who Trae Young is. Those are good shots for him. He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your defense."

Young’s ability to knock down 3-pointers from several feet behind the line makes him an extremely difficult cover, especially in the pick-and-roll. When Young wasn’t knocking them down himself, he was able to move the ball effectively to find open shooters on the wing or in the corners. With Kyrie Irving coming to town on Thursday, the Nuggets’ defense will have to adjust and prepare for another sweet-shooting guard that possesses dynamic dribbling abilities.

Barton III continues his impressive run

There weren’t many bright spots for Denver on Tuesday, but Barton III’s strong play is a good sign for the Nuggets. The veteran forward dropped 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists against Atlanta and served as Denver’s best offensive player in the loss.

Barton III has now scored in double-digits in six consecutive games, as his play has been a stabilizing aspect of Denver’s offense. Additionally, Barton III has been helping out more on the boards, which has contributed to Denver’s strong defensive start this season.

Effective ball movement fueled the offense

Even though the shooting percentages weren’t ideal, Denver’s ball movement in Tuesday’s game certainly was. The Nuggets had 31 assists to just three turnovers, which helped keep Denver in the game despite Atlanta’s success on the offensive end.

Denver’s offense continues to search for a rhythm, and while Tuesday’s performance was promising, there are still kinks to iron out on that end of the floor. A matchup against Brooklyn’s struggling defense should help the Nuggets continue their search for a flow on the offensive end.

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