Shorthanded Nuggets fall to Hawks in Atlanta

Denver Nuggets forward Trey Lyles (7) drives to the basket as he is defended by Atlanta Hawks guard Tyler Dorsey (2) during the first half at State Farm Arena.
Dec 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Trey Lyles (7) drives to the basket as he is defended by Atlanta Hawks guard Tyler Dorsey (2) during the first half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With injuries starting to stack up, the shorthanded Denver Nuggets suffered a tough 106-98 road loss to the Atlanta Hawks .

Coming into the game with the odds stacked against them, the Nuggets were without three key starters in Will Barton (right hip/core muscle), Gary Harris (right hip), and Paul Miillsap (right big toe fracture). That, coupled with it being their second game in two nights really made it tough for Denver as their record fell to 17-9 with the loss. The Nuggets record is still good for second place in the Western Conference and the good news is that Denver is still just a half game out of first place.

Seeing as it was the second night of a back-to-back, not only did the Nuggets have injury issues, but they were playing their third game in four nights. After the Charlotte Hornets snapped Denver’s seven-game win streak the night before, the Nuggets were looking to get back into the win column and close out their current road trip on a good note in Atlanta.

Denver rolled out a starting lineup that featured Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, and big man Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets new starting five was clicking early on after Jokic started the game with a nice floater and followed it up with a slick behind the back pass to Lyles for an easy jumper.

The Nuggets began the game on a 15-7 run to stretch their lead to eight with 7:06 remaining in the first quarter. Jokic was firing on all cylinders early as he scored 15 of the Nuggets first 27 points as Denver jumped out to a 27-16 lead with 3:30 remaining in the period. From the opening tip, Jokic was looking for his shot as he attempted nine shots in the first quarter. Jokic made six of those jump shots, while also chipping in two rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

It was not just Jokic who had a big first quarter though as Lyles also chipped in seven points of his own while filling in for Millsap. With the big quarters from Jokic and Lyles, the Nuggets were able to grab a 35-25 lead after the games first 12 minutes. The Nuggets 35 first quarter points came courtesy of some solid shooting numbers as Denver shot 13-of-23 from the field and 3-of-6 from behind the three-point line.

Atlanta would show some fight to start the second quarter as they began the period on a 11-7 run to cut the Nuggets lead to 42-36 with 8:08 left before half. Led by the play of John Collins, the Hawks second year forward had 11 early points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. Collins’ hot shooting was key in Atlanta staying in the game, but Denver still controlled the pace-of-play to hold a 50-44 lead with just over three minutes left before halftime.

The Hawks continued to keep pace though as the Nuggets once 15-point lead whittled all the way down to five at the half. After 24 minutes, the Nuggets held a 56-51 lead going into the second half. Denver was outscored 26-21 in the second, while shooting just 8-of-23 from the field in period number two.

Even with the Nuggets struggles to score the ball in the second, they still held a five point lead in large part to the 17 first half points from Jokic. The Nuggets big man also chipped in seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals in his 18 first half minutes. Other stat leaders for the Nuggets at the break were Lyles and Craig, who each had nine points on a combined 6-of-13 shooting from the field.

Denver’s injury woes continued to begin the third quarter as Murray had to be subbed out just two minutes into the period. After getting kicked in the shin during the closing minutes of the first half, Murray had to be subbed out for Monte Morris in the early stages of the second half. Murray’s absence was a huge loss for Denver as the Hawks began the quarter on a 10-4 run to give them a 61-60 lead with 8:02 left in the third.

At one point the Nuggets had missed seven straight shots in the third quarter before a Jokic lay up tied the game back up at 62. Denver would finally regain the lead at the 5:01 mark of the third after a Morris three gave the Nuggets a 69-68 lead. Atlanta would answer with an 8-3 run of their own to stretch their lead back to 76-72 with just over two minutes remaining in the quarter.

The good news for Denver is that Murray was able to return to the game, but it was evident his right shin was still bothering him. Murray returning to play was the only good news Denver received in the third quarter as their cold shooting allowed Atlanta to take a nine-point lead into the fourth. The Hawks would outscore the Nuggets 35-21 in the third to give them a 86-77 lead going into the final quarter.

Atlanta’s phenomenal third quarter gave them all the momentum going into the fourth, which they used to their advantage to begin the period. The Hawks began the fourth on a 6-0 run to stretch their lead to 15 points with just under 10 minutes left in the game. The play of Collins mixed with some hot shooting from DeAndre’ Bembry and Vince Carter allowed Atlanta to grow their lead throughout the second half. Those three combined to score 53 points at the midway point of the fourth with Collins leading the way with 27 points.

The Hawks momentum continued as the fourth quarter wore on as the Nuggets seemed to just be out of gas. Atlanta would stretch their lead to 17 with 5:35 left in the game as the Nuggets scored just 10 points in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter. Denver was not done battling though as they went on a quick 7-0 run to cut the Hawks lead to 101-91 with 3:34 left in the game. The comeback would be all for not though as the Hawks controlled the rest of the game in route to a 106-98 victory over the Nuggets.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Jokic, who finished with yet another double-double finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. Jokic shot an efficient 9-of-17 from the field, while also chipping in two steals on the defensive end of the floor. Juancho Hernangomez also had a big night for Denver finishing with 17 points on 5-12 shooting from the field, while also hauling in 10 rebounds to give him his third double-double of the season.

The Nuggets now have a day off tomorrow before they are back in action Monday night at the Pepsi Center to face the Memphis Grizzlies.