Millsap helps Nuggets beat his former team
ATLANTA — The Denver Nuggets snapped a five-season losing streak in Atlanta, spoiling the Hawks’ home opener and making a winner of Paul Millsap in his return to Philips Arena on Friday night.
Millsap scored seven of his 16 points down the stretch for the Nuggets, who won in Atlanta for the first time since March 16, 2011 with a 105-100 victory.
“The win means a lot, not just because it was Atlanta,” said Millsap, a four-time All-Star with the Hawks. “We needed a win bad and hopefully this starts something special for us. We’re coming out of here with some confidence.”
Millsap, who signed a three-year, $90 million contract with Denver as a free agent, received a loud round of applause during player introductions and a standing ovation in the first quarter after a video tribute to his time in Atlanta was played on the scoreboard.
After scoring the game’s first basket, Millsap was relatively quiet until the final three minutes, when Denver took advantage of a defensive mismatch inside.
“When the game was in the balance in the fourth quarter, that is what your $30 million a year man has to do,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s got to step up and make plays. Obviously, he did that.”
Nikola Jokic had 18 points and 15 rebounds as the Nuggets (2-3) scored 60 points in the paint, 24 on second chances, to 30 points for the Hawks (1-5).
Gary Harris and Will Barton each had 18 points for the Nuggets, which were coming off a lackluster loss at Charlotte two nights earlier.
“We came in feeling we needed this game even though it’s early in the season,” Malone said.
Dennis Schroder, who missed the previous two games because of a sprained ankle, scored 20 points to lead the Hawks, who lost their fifth straight after a victory at Dallas in their opener.
Taurean Prince scored 19 points, Marco Belinelli hit five 3-pointers for his 15 points, and Dewayne Dedmon contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
“We’re battling. It’s tough,” said Kent Bazemore. “We travel over 5,000 miles and have our (home) opener on a back-to-back. We came from Chicago, lost an hour of sleep. It’s been a tough little stretch.”
Sparked by Mason Plumlee’s six late points and two blocks, Denver (2-3) closed the third quarter on a 9-3 run to take a 75-71 lead into the final quarter.
The Nuggets, who trailed 62-39 at halftime in their loss at Charlotte on Wednesday, led most of the first half and were up 53-52 at the break against the Hawks.
Harris scored 14 first-half points for the Nuggets. Jokic had 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Emmanuel Mudiay, who finished with 16 points, scored 10 points in the second quarter.
Prince had 12 points for Atlanta at halftime, hitting two of his team’s eight first-half 3-point baskets in 17 attempts. The Hawks finished 14 of 33 from behind the arc to 4 of 20 for the Nuggets.
Denver had the edge inside, though, and the veteran presence of Millsap late.
“He’s a great player. A ton of respect for him and what he does,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his former player. “He makes winning plays.”
“It was weird,” Schroder said of playing against his former teammate. He’s still our brother.”
“It was great to get back on the court that I’ve competed on for the past four years,” Millsap said. “It was a great time getting out there, shaking hands, and having a few jokes with a few old buddies.”
NOTES: Hawks G Dennis Schroder returned after missing two games with a sprained left ankle suffered Sunday late in the loss at Brooklyn. ... F Ersan Ilyasova (knee) was also back in the Hawks lineup after a two-game absence. ... F DeAndre Bembry (broken wrist) and C Miles Plumlee (quad) are on the Hawks’ injury list. ... The Nuggets are at full strength except for F Juancho Hernangomez (mononucleosis). ... The first phase of Philips Arena’s $142.5 million makeup includes a bar behind one basket and a reduction in capacity of approximately 2,000. ... The Nuggets finish their four-game road trip at Brooklyn on Sunday and New York on Monday. ... The Hawks, who played Thursday in Chicago, host Milwaukee on Sunday.