By The Sports Xchange
DENVER — Injuries and illness robbed the Atlanta Hawks of three of their top players. Paul Millsap was around, and that was enough to pull off a late rally.
Millsap hit two free throws with six seconds left and grabbed a key rebound in the last second as the Hawks beat the Denver Nuggets 109-108 on Friday night.
Millsap finished with 20 points and eight rebounds scored for the Hawks (15-15).
“We had to reach deep, especially Paul and Dennis,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Those two guys led us. They dug deep and the team just followed their lead.”
Danilo Gallinari had 21 points and a season-high 11 rebounds and Wilson Chandler had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Nuggets (12-18).
Atlanta played its third straight game without center Dwight Howard but is 2-1, with both wins coming on the road.
The Hawks scratched Kyle Korver just before tip because of illness. Without him, Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. (groin) Atlanta was missing 34.7 points per game.
They still found a way to win.
“We dug deep,” Millsap said. “We were without three of our top-minute guys and we were able to get the win. It means a lot, but it means nothing if we don’t take it to the next game.”
The Hawks pulled this one out by outscoring the Nuggets 9-0 in the final 1:43. Atlanta scored its final nine points from the line, and one of those came after Denver coach Michael Malone was slapped with a technical after Nikola Jokic fouled out with 42.8 seconds left.
“Obviously, the technical was a big play. I apologized to our team,” Malone said. “I did not realize what I said was something you could get a technical for. I think it’s a slightly ridiculous call, considering the time and score of the game.”
Denver seemed comfortably ahead after Emmanuel Mudiay hit four free throws to build an eight-point lead. But Atlanta rallied from the foul line to pull within one.
After Chandler missed a jumper, Millsap was fouled by Darrell Arthur after it appeared Millsap used his right arm to create some room. He hit both free throws, and Denver called a timeout to set up a play.
“He’s an all-star; all-star players get all-star calls,” Arthur said. “Credit to him, he was aggressive all night.”
Chandler missed a runner in the lane with two seconds left and Millsap grabbed the rebound.
“I had a good look at the end. It just didn’t go down,” Chandler said.
The Nuggets averaged 125.3 points in their previous three home games but were held down by an Atlanta team that has had more success on the road than at home. The Hawks didn’t allow the Nuggets to score 30 points in any quarter in winning their fourth straight road game.
The Nuggets built a five-point lead to start the fourth, but the Hawks forced three turnovers to get within 94-93 with 5:52 left.
A bucket by Gary Harris and a free throw by Jokic gave Denver some breathing room, but the Hawks hung around. Millsap rebounded his own missed free throw and Mike Muscala hit a 3-pointer out of a timeout to make it 102-100 with 2:50 left.
“It was a big play when they got the offensive rebound off the missed free throw,” Chandler said.
The Nuggets led 71-61 in the third quarter and Atlanta went on an 18-4 run to take the lead. Gallinari’s 3-point play at the end of the quarter tied it at 82 heading into the fourth.
NOTES: C Dwight Howard’s back tightness is improving, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Part of not traveling was hoping that we could keep it going in the right direction. Probably be extra cautious, extra conservative or conservatively aggressive. I think we’re all hopeful he’ll be able to play very soon. We’ll see between now and (Monday).” … For the second time in six days, Denver travels to Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Monday. … Atlanta G Tim Hardaway Jr. (groin) was ruled out, but Budenholzer said he shouldn’t be gone long. “He did a little bit this morning and tested it, just not able to go,” Budenholzer said.