Hawks pull o≠ a road rally, stun Nuggets with 9-0 run
The Nuggets had won three games in a row at the Pepsi Center heading into Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.
But the Nuggets still hadn’t proved they could close a tight game in front of their fans. And nothing changed against the Hawks as Denver followed a familiar, troubling formula — failing to finish.
The Hawks closed the game on a 9-0 run to stun the Nuggets 109-108, Atlanta’s fourth consecutive road win.
Paul Millsap, with the Hawks trailing 108107, drew a foul on Darrell Arthur on a jump shot with six seconds left. He made both free throws to put the Hawks in front.
Wilson Chandler drove to the basket on the Nuggets’ final possession but could not get a tough runner to fall.
Hawks forward Mike Muscala hit a 3pointer with less than three minutes remaining to cut the Nuggets’ lead to 102-100. But Will Barton hit a runner and Emmanuel Mudiay hit four consecutive free throws after two aggressive drives to the basket to give the Nuggets a 108-100 lead with 1:43 left.
Mudiay finished with 17 points and five assists and was a perfect 10-of-10 at the freethrow line. And he had appeared to give Denver enough of a cushion.
But Dennis Schroder, who finished with a game-high 27 points, kept attacking and getting to the free-throw line. He made four straight free throws to cut Denver’s lead to four.
“We have to defend without fouling,” Barton said.
The game turned on a call with 42 seconds left. Nikola Jokic was called for his sixth foul, and a technical foul on Nuggets coach Michael Malone helped the Hawks trim their deficit to one point heading into the possession that ended in Millsap’s winning free throws.
“Obviously, the technical was a big play. I apologized to our team,” Malone said. “I did not realize what I said was something you could get a technical for. I think it’s a slightly ridiculous call, considering the time and score of the game.”
The Nuggets had built a nine-point lead in the second quarter by tightening up defensively. The Hawks made only two of their first 12 shots in the period, with Denver closing the paint and forcing contested jump shots. Atlanta missed its first six 3pointers of the second quarter before finding rhythm late and cutting the Nuggets’ halftime lead to 55-51.
Denver’s first half was highlighted by the kind of ball movement that Malone has praised during the team’s recent stretch of home success. Denver assisted on 18 of its first 20 fields goals. That included five assists from Jokic — all in the first quarter.
Jokic’s most impressive pass came when he was pressured a few feet outside the 3point line on the wing by Hawks forward
Mike Scott. Jokic hung in and delivered an overhead lob pass for Chandler, who finished the play with a thunderous dunk.
Chandler was aggressive in the first quarter, scoring 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Danilo Gallinari paced Denver with 21 points and also had 11 rebounds.
As impressive as Jokic’s playmaking was for the Nuggets, they didn’t get enough of it. Jokic has battled foul trouble since entering the starting lineup, and Friday’s game was no different. He missed a large chunk of the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul.
“Nikola Jokic has to learn,” Malone said. “This is the fourth or fifth game he’s started where he’s gotten into foul trouble. The game he doesn’t get into foul trouble he flirts with a triple-double.
“He’s hurting himself and hurting the team. He just has to be smarter.”
Atlanta ‘s Paul Millsap, second from left, and Mike Muscala celebrate the Hawks’ 109-108 victory over the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on Friday night as Denver’s Wilson Chandler, right, and Darrell Arthur walk off the court. David Zalubowski, The Associated Press
Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried blocks the Hawks’ Paul Millsap from scoring on this play Friday night. Matthew Stockman, Getty Images