When the Denver Nuggets arrived back in the Mile High City after a comeback win over Timberwolves in Minnesota, they were starting to gain quite a bit of momentum.
Denver had won their last four games, Nikola Jokic had hit back-to-back game-winning jumpers, and the dysfunction that plagued their play seemed to be disappearing.
Then they played the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night looking to continue their winning ways, but ended up losing 125-121 at home for arguably their worst loss of the 2019-20 season.
“We know it was some bullshit,” Nuggets backup point guard Monte Morris stated after Denver’s loss. “Straight up, it was some bullshit tonight.”
In Denver’s loss, their biggest issue was their defense, which was nowhere to be found for all four quarters. The Hawks shot 53% from the field, 44.1% from three-point range on 34 attempts, and also hit 22 free throws. They had 30 assists on their 44 made shots, were able to convert 28 of their 44 shots in the paint, and annihilated Denver’s defense in seemingly every way imaginable.
“When you score 121 points and you have 31 assists and only three turnovers, you should win the game if you just play an ounce of defense and we did not do that obviously,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone explained.
Spearheading the Hawks relentless offensive attack was none other than Trae Young, who managed to accumulate 42 points, four rebounds, and 11 assists in 41 minutes of action. He only missed seven of his 21 attempted shots and hit an absurd eight of his 13 3-pointers.
By the time the game ended, Young became only the second player to ever put up 40+ points, 10+ assists, and eight or more 3-pointers in one game while shooting at least 60% from both the field and from three. The only player to reach those numbers is Stephen Curry.
“You just got to give him credit,” Will Barton III explained. “He is a special talent. He is a special player. I have not been in a game like that where I felt like someone dominated the game that much in a long time.
“When he wasn’t scoring, he was getting those guys open opportunities — dunks, layups, open threes. Even when they weren’t scoring, they were wide open shots. He dictated that game a lot. He can shoot it so you have to respect his jumper, he has a tight handle, he can finish at the rim — he has all kinds of finishes — and then he is a hell of a passer too so it’s tough. He makes the right decision more often than not.”
Young was unstoppable as a shooter against the Nuggets and his most dangerous moments were when he was hitting shots from beyond 30 feet. For some reason, the Nuggets elected to not defend him that far up the floor on multiple occasions which made Malone quite frustrated, which he vocalized after the game.
“Give them credit and give Trae Young credit,” Malone explained. “He came in here and did exactly what we knew he was going to do and we let him do it; that is the frustrating thing about it. He was hitting threes and our guys were looking at us like we did not tell them that he shoots threes.
“We were supposed to have those high pick-up points. It is like, the shots he made tonight he makes. Tonight was not an aberration. This is Trae Young. This is the Trae Young we showed on film. He is Damian Lillard Pt. 2. He is going to shoot those 35-foot shots and those are good shots for him. He hit a couple shots tonight and our guys were surprised. I don’t know what the hell the surprise is about.”
From Morris’ perspective, Malone is entirely justified to be upset with the effort and defense that the Nuggets played with.
“He should be mad at us and we should be mad at ourselves,” Morris explained. “Tonight was piss-poor effort.”
While Young was clearly the best player on the floor, his play was not the only reason the Nuggets lost. The other major factor in Denver’s loss was when they shot themselves in the foot once the second quarter arrived.
After finishing the first quarter with a 34-25 lead, Denver allowed the Hawks to outscore them by 18 points in the second frame by a score of 38-20.
“To start the first quarter tonight, I loved us,” Malone explained. “The ball was flying, we were moving and playing with great pace and energy. Maybe we fell into the trap of thinking that maybe this is going to be an easy night and not understanding full well that they are an NBA team with talented players and they are going to call a timeout, regroup and come out and get right back into the game.
“I don’t know if our guys are coming into home games just expecting to win because we are at home or because our fans will carry us; I am not sure what it is, but tonight it was not good enough.”
Now the Nuggets need to learn from their mistakes against the Hawks and find a way to bounce back on Thursday night when they take on Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets which will be no easy task despite the Nets 4-6 record. Denver just let one star point guard destroy them. If Young can do it, so can Irving.
For Malone, he is not sure what to expect to come out of this loss. All he could convey is that time will tell where his Nuggets team is at.
“I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Malone said before taking a long pause.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”