1. Poor defense and an overall lack of energy for the Hawks resulted in a 43-point second quarter for the Nuggets (15-14) and an 18-point lead at halftime, and that listless vibe stuck around for the rest of the game. Denver was in complete control, and even when star Nikola Jokic picked up his fourth foul and only played 1:17 in the third quarter, Atlanta still lost that period, 34-33. The Nuggets had 60 points in the paint, made 17 3-pointers and tallied 18 fast-break points, scoring however they wanted. As much as the Hawks’ defense has struggled up to this point (24th in defensive rating at 111.2), Friday’s loss was the first time coach Nate McMillan has questioned the team’s effort on that end of the floor.
“As I said to them, I haven’t questioned their effort, but tonight, there’s a concern,” McMillan said. “I didn’t like what I saw out there tonight. We’ve got to commit to defending or playing defense out there, it can’t be about scoring. I thought tonight, when our shots didn’t fall, we took that to the defensive end of the floor and we didn’t compete. That’s a concern, when you see that.”
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
2. This loss keeps a trend going the Hawks desperately want to avoid — racking up defeats in their own arena. They’ve now lost six straight at home dating back to Nov. 27, falling to the Knicks, Sixers, Hornets, Nets, Rockets and Nuggets.
3. For the first time this season, Onyeka Okongwu was available to play, with the second-year center recovered from surgery in July to repair a torn labrum. He had some quality finishes around the rim and finished with 10 points, two rebounds, one steal and one turnover in about 14 minutes, though he did pick up five fouls. Okongwu said he felt better than he thought he would, in terms of conditioning, and his return should give the Hawks’ bench unit quite a boost.
“I felt good, honestly,” Okongwu said. “I haven’t played in almost six months. It was a warm welcome, nice standing ovation from the crowd, and I felt good out there. My energy was everywhere. I felt happy. I feel like I’m picking off right with what I did in the playoffs.”
4. At 23 years and 89 days, Trae Young became the third-youngest player in NBA history to tally his 100th career points and assists double-double (34 points and 10 assists, plus three rebounds and two steals, with four turnovers), behind Chris Paul (22 years, 346 days) and Isiah Thomas (22 years, 349 days). He also became the third player in Hawks history to accomplish that feat, along with Doc Rivers and Mookie Blaylock, though Young is the fastest out of all three to do so. This marks Young’s NBA-leading 30-plus point, 10-plus assist double-double, though he struggled on defense like the rest of the Hawks’ backcourt.
“I don’t know if that’s a question for somebody else; I think we’ve got to be better obviously on the defensive end, 133 points is way too many,” Young said on if the Hawks are taking enough pride in playing defense, later emphasizing they need to communicate more on that end. “I don’t get all into that stuff. But I know we’ve got to be better on both ends, but mainly on that defensive end.”
5. Jokic got into foul trouble and only played 26 minutes, though he still tallied 20 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals in that amount of time, finishing as a plus-13. It wasn’t his most dominant scoring performance, though the Nuggets had such success as a group they didn’t need it from him, with three other players tallying 20-plus point performances, too (Jeff Green with 20, Monte Morris with 21 and Bones Hyland with 24 points).
Stat of the game: 4 (the number of Nuggets players who finished with 20-plus points in a balanced scoring attack)
Star of the game: Hyland (came off the bench to lead Denver in scoring with 24 points, going 4-for-5 from 3-point range, adding four rebounds, two assists and two blocks)
Quotable: “If there’s a change that could be made that we feel could give us that, we’ll certainly look at that.” (McMillan on if he’ll make a change to the rotation to generate a spark defensively)