Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic
Photo: 15
Photo: 15

Nikola Jokic scores career-high 47 as Nuggets outlast Hawks

Trae Young served up more highlights and the Hawks (8-29) challenged the Nuggets (25-11) for the lead in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t get stops and faltered in a 123-115 loss Monday at State Farm Arena.

Here are some takeaways:

1. Trailing by five points entering the fourth quarter, the Hawks got within a point (101-100) at the 8:19 mark before losing ground, and it was more of the same down the stretch. A long 3-pointer by Young brought them back within two with 4:25 to play, but after getting in reaching distance, the Hawks fell behind by six and couldn’t get enough stops to actually take the lead.

The same thing happened after a 3-pointer by Kevin Huerter made it 112-109 at the 3:37 mark before the Nuggets went on a run to go up by nine. For the most part, the Hawks’ offense was firing on all cylinders, but so was the Nuggets’. “We had the looks we wanted,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We knew what we were doing offensively. But just trying to get a stop down the stretch and trying to get a whistle down the stretch was hard for us tonight.”

2. Nikola Jokic caused problems for the Hawks all night, and they couldn’t figure out a way to contain the powerful center. He finished with a career-high 47 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists.

When the Hawks laid off him earlier in the game, he was 4-for-6 from 3-point range (going 0-for-2 from 3 in the second half), and when he got going closer to the basket and the Hawks tried to be more physical, they fouled him and sent him to the line (he made 11 of 16 free throws). Jokic got going early, scoring 18 points in the first quarter alone, and had 27 by halftime. The conundrum of how to guard Jokic without getting called for fouls frustrated Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, who rarely comments on officiating: “It’s tough. Jokic is a good player, but it’s tough when you don’t get a call. I thought our guys were banging and battling just as much as he was and we were on the other end of the whistle on all of them. It’s hard to tell our guys what to do.”

3. We’ve seen Young nutmeg opponents, but this time, in the fourth quarter, he switched it up and dribbled through his own legs to fake out defenders on his way for a layup, to thunderous applause. Young finished with a double-double of 29 points and 12 assists. This marked Young’s 11th double-double of the season, and he has now tallied at least 20 points and 10 assists 10 times this season, which is good for the most in the Eastern Conference and the third-most in the league. “It’s something that I’ve always done,” Young said of his between-the-legs dribble move. “It’s something that I use to trick defenders, get ‘em thinking I’m throwing it back behind my back, and they fall for it sometimes. And it looks good.” 

4. The Nuggets started the second quarter on an 18-6 run to take a 47-37 lead at the 6:30 mark, and led by eight points at halftime. Then, with three 3-pointers in about two and a half minutes, Kevin Huerter single-handedly breathed some life into the Hawks’ offense, narrowing the deficit to 71-69. Huerter, who has been on a roll lately, finished with 22 points and made a season-high six 3’s, passing Doc Rivers for No. 21 on the Hawks all-time 3-pointers made list (with 189). 

5. Rookie De’Andre Hunter has struggled on the second night of back-to-backs this season, and was coming off a rough performance in the Hawks’ win vs. the Pacers Saturday (0 points, 0-3 FG). In Monday’s loss, Hunter got back on track with 16 points (5-11 FG, 4-8 3-point range), three rebounds, three assists and one steal. “I thought he came out aggressive, I thought he was in rhythm with all of his shots, I thought he was trying to make plays for guys,” Pierce said. “I thought he did a tremendous job defensively of just being solid. We’re playing him at the 3, sometimes at the 4, moving him around, but he was locked in tonight.” 

By the Numbers 

20-3 (what the Nuggets outscored the Hawks by in second-chance points) 

Quotable 

“We knew we were going to be in the game the entire time. We were ready for it. We just tried to do our best to execute. A couple shots didn’t fall, a couple, some more tough calls down the stretch. Like I always say, that’s just part of being a competitor in this league, and you have to sort of work through it.” (John Collins, who had 17 points and five rebounds, on the fourth quarter)

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