Good, bad & ugly: Nuggets edge past Hawks behind Jokic’s career-high night

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half at State Farm Arena.
Jan 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are coming off of their most disappointing loss of the season as they fell 128-114 to a very injured Washington Wizards team. In that loss, they allowed Ish Smith to go off for 32 points in the game.

Denver did not have any easier of a task on Monday evening as they were up against Trae Young and an entertaining Atlanta Hawks team that beat the Nuggets earlier in the season.

Denver wanted to not only get the bad taste out of their mouth from their previous game, but also redeem themselves against a team that currently owns the worst record in the entire NBA and they did so in a high-scoring affair.

The Nuggets edged out the Hawks 123-115, but not without Nikola Jokic setting a new career-high and with that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.

Good – Nikola Jokic’s career-best night

On Monday January 6th, it was Christmas for many in Serbia, the home county of the Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, so it was only right that he had a good game.

Monday was a career-best type of night as Jokic got off to a career-high first half as he did everything that he wanted against the Hawks.

Jokic finished off the first half with 27 points as he went 9-14 from the field and 4-6 from beyond the arc.

He carried that into the second half where he remained in attack mode as he set a new career-high of 47 points. He was who the offense ran through which led to the win.

Jokic was aggressive early on, took advantage of smaller defenders that were on him, and when the Hawks gave him a bit of space, he made them pay with his jumper.

Jokic also helped close out the Hawks with tough and-one finishes and finding cutters for easy buckets.

When Jokic is playing as the aggressor and forcing mismatches as well as looking for his shot, the Nuggets are a difficult team to defend.

Bad – Letting leads go

One of the areas that the Nuggets will have to continue to work on is not only getting out to these big leads, but closing teams out once they have them.

The Nuggets led by eight points at the halftime intermission, but their lead dwindled as the Hawks found their rhythm from deep to begin the second half which got them right back in the game.

The Hawks got as close as three points as Kevin Huerter and Young made their mark in the third quarter which allowed the Hawks to get right back in the game.

It was not that long ago when Young lit the Nuggets up for 42 points and 11 assists so limiting his looks and keeping the ball out of his hands had to be in the game plan.

It does not take much for Young to get started and somehow the Nuggets allowed him to get in a rhythm in the third quarter as he created contact, went 5-5 from the charity stripe, finished at the rim, and also found the open man for easy finishes to put Atlanta in striking distance.

Huerter joined in on the action as he finished with 11 points and went 3-3 from beyond the arc in the frame alone.

The Nuggets knew what both of these players were going to do heading into the game yet still allowed them to get loose in the third quarter and Atlanta rode that momentum into the fourth quarter where they made it a dog fight.

The Nuggets have to continue to play in the same forceful way that they do to get to their big leads and use that to close teams out when they have the chance; not allow teams to get back in the game.

Ugly – Millsap not shooting well

For as good of a game as it was for some the Nuggets starters such as Jokic and Will Barton III, who both had a season-best type of nights, one player that did not have too great of a game was Paul Millsap.

Millsap had some added incentive as this was a team that he spent four seasons with before being traded to the Nuggets yet he could not get going against his former team.

Millsap has been dealing with a knee injury and has been in and out of games to begin the season. With being a bit banged up, he has been less efficient; particularly with his jump shot.

Millsap started off the season shooting the deep ball well, but has not been able to get it going as of late. He has not hit a 3-pointer in three games to begin the 2020 calendar year and in Monday’s game he finished with two points on the night and did not record his first points of the night until there was only 4:05 remaining in the game on two free throw attempts.

Millsap is not a player that has to score the ball to be productive because plenty of what he does well does not appear on the stat sheet, but to only finish with two points on 0-3 shooting in a game that saw 238 points in it, there has to be something more going on.

Maybe resting him a bit longer as he attempts to get back healthy can helps his shot because the Nuggets seem to flow a bit differently when he is also in a rhythm offensively.

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