Criticized by their coach for slow, stagnant play, the Denver Nuggets reverted to a fast-break style that carried their offense to new highs.
Juancho Hernangomez scored a season-high 25 points to lead seven Nuggets in double figures and Denver set the tone for a runaway victory with a big first quarter Thursday night, beating the Atlanta Hawks 138-93.
“We just played with freedom,” Hernangomez said. “Everybody played hard, everybody played really good defense and after our defense, it was easy to run. It’s who we are. Last season we played like this. Everybody ran, everybody cut, everybody shot. I think we’re in a great mode.”
Paul Millsap and Gary Harris added 18 points apiece for the Nuggets, who unleashed a torrid offensive display to snap their season-high, four-game losing streak.
“It started right from the get-go,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who took his team to task the day before for playing what he described as predictable basketball. “This has been coming … 35 assists, to shoot the ball as well as we did throughout the game, our starters, the guys off the bench, it was great to see.”
Jamal Murray, who came off the bench rather than start, had 14 points, as did Trey Lyles.
Denver outshot Atlanta 56.4 percent to 34.8 percent from the field and pushed the pace throughout, getting up and down the floor and wearing down the Hawks, who like to run themselves but were also playing at altitude and in the midst of a four-game road trip.
“It wasn’t the altitude, it was the lack of effort,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “This one stung. Everyone has a game like tonight. It’s frustrating when you have to speak to effort and this wasn’t any fun. Tonight we didn’t have it for some reason. We’ll regroup and stay together tomorrow on our day off.”
Jeremy Lin scored 16 points and Kent Bazemore had 14 in the Hawks’ sixth straight loss.
The Nuggets outscored Atlanta 13-0 to start the game en route to a 35-23 advantage after one quarter, when Atlanta missed 13 of its first 21 shots.
“We’ve got to stop putting ourselves in that situation,” the Hawks’ Omari Spellman said. “It’s not acceptable that we keep coming out like that. We can’t wait till we get punched in the mouth to compete.”
Denver stretched its lead to 73-57 lead at the half. It was the most points scored in the first two quarters this season by the Nuggets, who forced the Hawks into 10 turnovers in that span, eight by steals.
Millsap, who spent four seasons with the Hawks before coming to Denver as a free agent two years ago, was at the center of the defensive effort, getting all four of his steals in the first half.
The Nuggets surpassed the century mark on a three-point play by Millsap for a 101-68 lead with 3:11 left in the third quarter. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Nuggets were up by 36 points and substituting freely.
Hawks: F Taurean Prince was held out of the game because of Achilles tendon soreness. “After shootaround, he just didn’t feel comfortable testing it out tonight, so a night of rest,” Pierce said.