DENVER — The Denver Nuggets were up so big and comfortably that not even a late run — an impressive late run at that — could make any sort of difference.
Well, except raise the anxiety level of their interim coach, of course.
Danilo Gallinari had 23 points and Will Barton added 16, helping the Nuggets hang on to beat Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta 115-102 on Wednesday night for their eighth straight home win over the Hawks.
This game was such a rout by the end of the third quarter that Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer inserted his bench players. The Hawks went on a 24-1 run midway through the fourth quarter to make the score respectable after trailing by 32 with 7:32 remaining.
Even after the game, interim Nuggets coach Melvin Hunt was still jittery after watching that big lead almost evaporate.
"That's a real good team over there," Hunt said. "They never give in."
The Nuggets are playing with more emotion and energy under Hunt, who's 4-2 since stepping in after Brian Shaw was fired. The team has scored 100 or more points in every game under Hunt.
This wasn't exactly the way Atlanta wanted to begin a six-game road swing. Although the Hawks have one of the NBA's top road marks, they've dropped two in a row away from home to struggling teams. They also fell in Philadelphia last weekend.
"We're a good team, but no team in this league is good enough to look at another person's jersey, look at another person's record and come out and play like that," said DeMarre Carroll, whose team hasn't won in the Mile High City since Dec. 6, 2006. "We got down big. Thought we could come back, like we normally do. They kept their foot on the pedal."
It was an uncharacteristic game for Atlanta, which was outrebounded (44-32), made less 3-pointers (13-9) and couldn't dominate down low (each team had 34 points in the paint). Even more, the Hawks allowed the Nuggets to shoot 60 percent through three quarters.
"This is not Hawks' basketball," Carroll said. "This is not what we pride ourselves on. We have to pick it up."
Denver turned the contest into a rout with a 45-21 run in the first half. The Hawks' backups closed the gap by holding the subs for the Nuggets to 5-of-23 shooting in the fourth quarter, but it was a too late.
"We didn't come out with the right level of intensity and desperation that we needed to," said Kyle Korver, who led Atlanta with 18 points.
Under Hunt, the Nuggets have returned to their running ways, pushing the pace at every opportunity to take advantage of the higher altitude. It's a style reminiscent of Hunt's mentor, George Karl, who had the team playing that way back when he was in charge of the Nuggets.
"We had fun. We enjoyed the night," Kenneth Faried said. "Atlanta is still a top team, one of the top teams in the league. We were able to show, 'Hey, maybe the Nuggets can really play and maybe the Nuggets are worth watching.'"
The Hawks beat Denver 96-84 in Atlanta on Dec. 7. That was back when Denver had Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee (both now with Portland), along with Timofey Mozgov (traded to Cleveland) and Shaw on the bench.
But this isn't that team.
"They just smacked us," Korver said.
Hawks: G/F Thabo Sefolosha missed his 17th game with a strained right calf. He could be back on this road swing. ... Backup center Pero Antic (sprained left ankle) was back on the court. He had six points in just under 20 minutes.
Nuggets: Center Jusuf Nurkic (sprained right ankle) may soon be back in the lineup. "I don't know when we're going to unleash him, but when we do, he'll be ready to play," Hunt said. ... Army Staff Sgt. David Fuqua arrived from Liberia to surprise his family at mid-court in the first half. ... Ty Lawson had nine of the Nuggets' 28 assists.
Korver hit five 3-pointers to give him 1,697 in his career and move him past Kobe Bryant (1,694) for 12th in NBA history.
"Went by Kobe, huh?" Korver said. "I didn't know that."
Hawks: At Phoenix on Friday night.
Nuggets: Host Golden State on Friday night.
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