The Denver Nuggets dropped a very winnable game to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, losing 117-109. The Nuggets showed zero urgency in the first half and were down double-digits heading into halftime. The starters turned on the jets in the third quarter and eventually tied the game back up, but the Hawks battled back and closed the game with a combination of Dejounte Murray, A.J. Griffin, and Onyeka Okongwu making relatively easy jump shots. The Nuggets lost contact late in the fourth quarter and couldn’t close out the comeback as a result.

Nikola Jokić posted 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists in his 35 minutes, but he was as emblematic of Denver’s apathetic beginning as anybody. he scored just four points in the first half, rarely looking for his own shot. He was more than comfortable waiting until the second half to kick into a higher gear. He did just that, but the rest of the Nuggets struggled to get stops in the process.

Jamal Murray also put together a solid performance with 20 points and 7 assists on 7-of-14 from the field. It just wasn’t enough though.

Here are my primary takeaways from Denver’s loss in Atlanta:

Play with fire and get burned

The Nuggets have consistently put together performances in the last week in which they haven’t put together full effort for an entire half. Against the Houston Rockets, they got away with it. Against the Hawks tonight, they could not.

The Hawks walked into open jumpers in pick and roll all night. Dejounte Murray was the catalyst with 34 points and 8 assists. He snaked his way around picks set by Clint Capela and was comfortable taking 15-footers for most of the evening. The Nuggets perimeter defense could not stay attached to him, and though some may want to blame Jokić in this situation, he’s walling off the paint. It’s on the guards to make that midrange jumper more difficult, and they didn’t do that tonight. Bruce Brown was a major culprit here. Aaron Gordon got lost late (but he was the best option).

More than anything though, there was simply no urgency from Denver until the third quarter. The starters believed they could wait until the second half to truly engage, and they were burned by some timely shooting from Atlanta. When the Nuggets attempted to respond, they just didn’t make enough of their three-pointers to make up the difference. It’s difficult to stage a comeback if the defense isn’t up to par no matter what. Denver’s defense did not show up again.

Bones Hyland returns to mixed results

It was good to see Bones Hyland back on the court, and the Nuggets needed his shooting off the bench to keep the deficit within reach. Bones immediately made an impact as a scorer with 16 points in 22 minutes, including 3-of-5 on two-pointers and 3-of-6 on three-pointers. Without that, this game would have been a laugher.

Unfortunately, there were other aspects of Bones’ game that left a lot to be desired. His ability to create shots efficiently for others has been weaker this year. He’s only just returning from a prolonged absence, but Bones was clearly rusty as a passer and committed four turnovers. More important was his defense though, as players like Griffin, Aaron Holiday, and even Jarrett Culver got right past Bones and were allowed easy baskets. The offense and defense can be connected for Bones, and there were instances when he allowed a negative offensive play to snowball into bad defensive effort/execution. He wasn’t the only one, but his miscues were perhaps the most noticeable.

The Nuggets have some stuff to figure out with their rotation. Ish Smith played next to Bones tonight and had a subpar game on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets struggled to play defense with two small guards on the court, plus Brown at times. Bones is clearly a part of what the Nuggets bench unit and is an essential offensive piece, but finding the mix around him has proven difficult thus far.

Where in the world is Christian Braun?

On a night when perimeter defense and effort was Denver’s biggest issue for 48 minutes, it’s odd that Christian Braun didn’t get a chance to make an impact on the game. Braun gives the Nuggets more size, athleticism, and defensive IQ when he’s out there, but he was nowhere to be seen on Friday night.

Braun’s minutes have trended down over the last two weeks, and Davon Reed has effectively replaced him in the rotation. Braun’s averaging 5.2 minutes per game in his last six games, and though he’s been negative in the plus-minus during that stretch, it’s hard to blame him for fundamental bench issues that have been much larger, especially with Bones missing as much time as he has. Reed has been subpar during that stretch as well, which makes it odd that Braun’s minutes have just disappeared.

If the Nuggets are serious about fixing their defensive issues, they will put Christian Braun back out there. He’s fundamentally sound and gives effort at all times. The same cannot be said for the rest of the Nuggets rotation.

Final Rotations