DENVER – The architects of this season’s NBA schedule punctuated a trying West Coast swing for the Hawks with a cruel final destination.
Atlanta finally concluded its nine-day, five-game road trip Wednesday night at 5,280 feet above sea level, a figure that serves as a warning sign posted anywhere you look inside the Pepsi Center.
After suffering two heartbreaking, one-point losses on the trip, including Monday’s defeat in Los Angeles against the Clippers, the road-weary Hawks had to battle the stout-at-home Nuggets, Denver’s mile-high altitude and every other demon that has haunted this young team during phase one of its massive rebuild.
Somehow the Hawks overcame it all to stamp their first victory of 2018.
Atlanta, spurred by effective 3-point shooting, timely defense and a big bench contribution, beat the Nuggets 110-97 to improve to 4-19 on the road. Denver lost at home for just the fifth time in 19 games.
Taurean Prince scored 14 points in the first half, highlighted by a string of three straight 3-pointers in the first quarter that helped the Hawks build a 29-19 lead in what was nearly a wire-to-wire win against a team competing for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Dennis Schroder unleashed his unique brand of offensive mastery in the second quarter – an alley-oop pass to John Collins followed by back-to-back layups in traffic – to spark Atlanta to a 54-46 halftime lead.
Schroder’s downhill attacks – he had a team-high 19 points and 10 assists – sparked a strong outside shooting effort. The Hawks, who entered the game seventh in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (37.5), hit 12-of-27 (44.4) from long range Wednesday. Prince, who finished 16 points, hit 4-of-9 from the perimeter.
And the 3-point pendulum swung both ways for Atlanta. Aggressive in closing out on Denver shooters, the Hawks did their part in limiting the Nuggets to 9-of-36 (25 percent) shooting from deep.
Malcolm Delaney provided a playmaking punch off the bench in the second half. Five of his six assists and six of his 10 points came in the second half. The guard’s back-to-back buckets midway through the fourth quarter gave the Hawks a 93-81 lead, their largest of the game. They coasted from there to improve to 11-30.
A long, trying road trip ended with a happy flight.