The energy and good vibes of Jamal Murray’s historic Friday night didn’t last long.
The Nuggets finished their road trip with four games on Sunday night in Atlanta with a 123-115 dud. Her energy was low from the start and her defense against the electric shooter Trae Young was almost nonexistent. Despite a brief start to the fourth quarter, the result has never been in doubt. The Nuggets finished the road sweep 1-3 and fell to 16-14 during the season.
Murray led the Nuggets with 30 points in the 11-of-20 shoot-out after breaking out for a career high of 50 against the Cavaliers. Will Barton added 15 and Monte Morris tossed 15 off the bench, but there was no production volume to make up for Nikola Jokic’s tough night.
« It’s the worst feeling as a coach when you’re in search mode, » said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, referring to Morris. « Your starting unit isn’t playing at the level you need to play it at. So you have to reach out to someone on your bench and hope they come in and give you a spark. »
Jokic managed 15 points, along with 10 rebounds, but only linked 5 for 15 off the field. Michael Porter Jr. added 10 in just 19 minutes.
« We got our (butt) kick, » Malone said when specifically asked about Porter’s minutes. “I got a lot of people out. … I’m just looking for a group that will play hard. So it wasn’t just an individual. It was a collective group decision. »
Young carved Denver’s backcourt apart, finishing with 35 points and 15 assists. His penetration and the Atlanta ball movement gave the Hawks a 56-40 lead on points on the suit.
Halftime did nothing to cure the Nuggets’ collective malaise. The Hawks took apart the Nuggets defense with a string of pick and roll praises against Clint Capela and demoralizing 3-pointers from Young. The Atlanta spark plug scored 14 points in the third quarter alone, including four 3-point spark plugs.
At 22, Jokic tried to supply his troops with energy. Only a few people responded, including RJ Hampton, Facu Campazzo, and Morris. But with a quarter to go, the Nuggets still had a lead of 93-76.
Due to injuries, the Nuggets rookie Zeke Nnaji started as a striker for their 12th different starting line-up of the season. Without Paul Millsap (knee) or JaMychal Green (shoulder), Denver didn’t have many options in the forecourt.
But for the second time in a row they were without defensive strong Gary Harris, who may have exacerbated an adductor strain that had held him off for seven games before returning against Washington on Wednesday.
« I really respected Gary because he wasn’t shy about (the matchup against Bradley Beal), » said Malone. « … I think Gary is definitely frustrated. At the end of this game, at the end of the fourth quarter, Gary said to me, » Hey, this doesn’t feel right. I don’t think I can protect myself the way I need to protect myself. « … It’s Gary’s concern. We’ll take our time for it. »
Murray had to deal with Young, who started on Sunday with an average of 26 points per game.
« You know, Trae Young is a prolific goalscorer, has unlimited reach, » said Malone. « He’s the second in the NBA to try free throws per game and he’s very good at drawing fouls. »
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The rising star of Atlanta led the Hawks after two quarters with 11 points and eight assists.
The Nuggets have made it a dangerous habit of losing their energy for long distances, and Sunday’s second quarter seemed all too familiar to me. The Hawks left a second quarter behind with 37 points, revealing the depth of Denver, but also taking advantage of the lackluster ball protection. The Hawks had 20 points in color in the second quarter, which was the product of numerous blow-bys and lethargic efforts.
At break, the Hawks were 64-56 after closing half with a 17-9 run.
Jokic only had three points at 1: 6 in the first two quarters, while Murray (14 points) and Barton (13) pushed the offensive in Denver.