DENVER -- The Hawks couldn’t muster much energy Saturday after a big win over the Jazz a night earlier. They played without Trae Young (non-COVID illness) too and fell to the Nuggets 128-108 on the second night of a back-to-back.
Here are five observations:
1. The Hawks had a decent first quarter, falling behind the Nuggets by just five. But their legs unfortunately gave way in the second quarter and the Nuggets got whatever shot they wanted. Denver took advantage of mismatches quickly, giving way to more favorable shots.
The Nuggets busted the game wide open thanks to some hot shooting from Jamal Murray, who went 4-of-8 from 3 and dropped 22 points in the first half alone.
The Hawks were slow to close out on Murray, who is averaging 26.1 points per game over his last six outings. With him leading the way, the Nuggets scored 30 points in the paint, 10 second-chance points and 12 points off of eight Hawks turnovers.
Murray finished with 41 points.
“I thought (Jamal) Murray was really good tonight, being really aggressive attacking our defense in transition as well as in the half court, and just making us pay,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.
2. The Hawks made 50% of their shots from the floor but they just could not generate enough of the right looks from distance to keep pace. The Hawks took just eight 3-point attempts compared to the Nuggets’ 22 in the first half.
The Hawks ended up making just eight of their 22 overall attempts from the floor in the second quarter as the Nuggets forced them into tough shots.
Heading into the locker room at the half, the Hawks trailed 70-52.
3. But upon the return, the Hawks seemed to find their legs again with Dejounte Murray heating up offensively. With Murray finding some rhythm, the Hawks managed to trim the lead to 11 by the time the third quarter wrapped.
The 26-year-old guard helped to navigate the Hawks through that stretch, dropping 15 points in the quarter on 5-of-8 shooting. He knocked down two of his four attempts from 3, while dishing out four assists that accounted for nine Hawks points.
On top of that, the Hawks tightened up defensively to hold the Nuggets to 10-of-21 shooting from the floor, while taking better care of the basketball. They tried to keep their foot on the gas and managed to cut the Nuggets’ lead to 100-92 with 10:26 left in the game.
“I thought they did a good job of making us earn everything that we got,” McMillan said. “We were making tough shots and I didn’t think we had the ball movement, but I thought it was due to their defense. They just made us work for everything on the offensive end the floor.”
4. But the Hawks ran out of juice down the stretch and began pressing for shots. They scored just three points after getting the game within single digits, going 4-of-12 from the floor before McMillan cleared the benches.
“We looked like we had heavy legs,” McMillan said. “But you know, when you’re down 20 at the half it is going to be tough. I thought we came out fighting, had a big third quarter, score 34 points. But they just continued with the pressure of pushing the ball down floor, getting into our legs, attacking us.”
5. The Hawks needed to navigate the night down one starter with Young out and bumped rookie AJ Griffin into the starting five. The rookie, who was named to the Rising Stars pool last week, scored 15 points in his 11th career start.
Griffin made the start to give the team a mixture of shooting as well as size. He gave the Hawks some strong minutes, particularly in the fourth quarter as the team tried to make a push.
Nuggets 128, Hawks 108
Stat to know
4-15 -- Over the last 20 seasons (since 2003-04), teams are 4-15 at Denver when they played at Utah the day before.
“This is probably one of the toughest back-to-backs. It has always been that, due to the play of the teams. These are two really good teams, when you’re playing them, whether you’re going from Utah to Denver, or from Denver to Utah, that altitude plays a part in that, and the style of play. Both of these teams, they try to use the altitude to their advantage by playing faster. And, normally it works. -- Hawks coach Nate McMillan pregame on why the Utah-Denver back-to-back is difficult.
The Hawks wrap up their 10-day, five-game road trip against the Pelicans on Tuesday.
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