DENVER – Aaron Gordon got it done on both ends Friday at Ball Arena.
“Aaron Gordon was just phenomenal tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after Denver’s 105-96 win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
Gordon scored a team-high 23 points, making 7 of 11 shots from the field, 3 of 5 from 3-point range and all six of his free throws.
“You look at the stat sheet, and Aaron Gordon was just incredible across the board,” Malone said before running down Gordon’s shooting numbers.
“That’s after guarding Trae Young all over the place. That’s not easy to do. When you’ve got a guard at that level, that takes a lot out of you, so that’s even more impressive, what he was able to do on the offensive end.”
Malone wasn’t the only one to notice Gordon’s importance to the second-ranked defense in the NBA.
“He is guarding every best player on the other team,” Nuggets star Nikola Jokic said. “That’s a tough job, especially the guys who are handling the ball a lot in the pick-and-roll. He’s going to get screened all night, but he’s doing a great job.”
Gordon also grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. Spending most of his night defending Atlanta star Trae Young, who scored 19 of his game-high 30 points after halftime, Gordon added three blocked shots and two steals.
“I learned early that you need to find a niche to be in this league,” Gordon said. “Defense was my niche.”
Jokic recorded his second triple-double in as many games played, finishing with 22 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists.
“It just makes your life so much easier – point blank, period. Man, that guy is special, man,” Nuggets rookie Bones Hyland said. “He just makes the game so easy. He finds you at the right time. He finishes so easy. He shoots the ball so easy. … Just to play alongside him, I feel very blessed, for sure.”
It was the 59th triple-double of Jokic’s career, which tied him with Larry Bird for eighth all-time.
“My name being next to him means a lot, of course, but I’m just trying to be the best I can be. I have a couple of years left.”
Jeff Green added 16 points, while Hyland and PJ Dozier led Denver’s bench with 15 and 12 points, respectively. It was the second consecutive game Hyland set a new career-high after scoring 12 points on Wednesday.
“Bones has extreme confidence,” Malone said. “He shoots into a big basket, and he’s not afraid. I think that’s what the veteran players love about him is that he’s talented, he’s young, he’s still a work in progress, but he competes.”
After Atlanta closed within nine points early in the fourth quarter, Hyland hit consecutive 3-pointers, prompting an Atlanta timeout. The rookie took his time getting back to the huddle, as he engaged an energetic crowd.
“It was so fun tonight,” Hyland said. “I had a blast out there.”
After leading by as many as 11 points in the first quarter, the Nuggets led 32-25 to start the second. The Hawks used an 11-0 run spanning the end of the first quarter and start of the second to tie the game and led by five in the second quarter. Gordon and Jokic returned to the court for the final seven-plus minutes of the second quarter and helped the Nuggets lead 49-46 at halftime.
The Nuggets scored the first seven points of the second half to create a 10-point lead, an advantage they took to the fourth quarter. Hyland’s surge, coupled with late buckets from Gordon and Jokic finalized the Nuggets’ fourth consecutive win.
The 8-4 Nuggets will look to go undefeated over a five-game homestand Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“We would not be where we’re at if Aaron Gordon was not playing defense at the level he’s played at against the quality opponent he’s had to guard,” Malone said.