Chauncey Billups scored a season-best 33 points for Denver and Atlanta’s Flip Murray had a short jumper bounced off the rim at the buzzer, allowing the Nuggets to escape with a 110-109 win over the depleted Hawks on Wednesday night.
Billups missed an 18-footer with 6.9 seconds left, giving the Hawks a shot at the upset.
The Hawks had trimmed a 110-102 deficit in the final 90 seconds but Murray’s shot clanked off the iron and he fell to the court as the Nuggets breathed a huge sigh of relief over their first win in a week.
A loss to Atlanta’s “B” team with the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers on tap Friday night could have been devastating for the Nuggets, who are clinging to their Northwest Division lead with star Carmelo Anthony (knee) ailing, center Nene (knee) out and forward Kenyon Martin fighting through back spasms.
The Hawks were without starters Mike Bibby (flu) and Josh Smith (family matter). Bibby was replaced by Murray at point guard, and forward Zaza Pachulia took Smith’s place in the lineup, but the changes didn’t bother the Hawks until Denver took control with a 19-0 run spanning halftime.
Marvin Williams led Atlanta with a season-best 31 points, including eight straight to start the third quarter and pull the Hawks to 92-86 after they had trailed by 17 in the third quarter.
Billups shook off his three-point performance in Denver’s 38-point loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday night, his worst game since joining the Nuggets in the on Nov. 3 in the trade that sent Allen Iverson to Detroit.
‘Melo also bounced back from a sub-par performance against the defending champs, hitting all sorts of highlight shots in a 23-point performance.
The Nuggets were without Nene for the second straight game, and they missed their big man as much as, if not more, than the Hawks missed Bibby and Smith, who average 15.8 and 15.3 points respectively.
Without their big Brazilian patrolling the paint and shooting his high-percentage shots, the Nuggets started Johan Petro again and rotated a mixture of Linas Kleiza, Chris Anderson and J.R. Smith to counter Atlanta’s makeshift, albeit big and athletic lineup.
The depleted Hawks, who have lost four of five, led almost the entire first half, building a nine-point lead at one point before Denver closed the first half with a 15-2 run to take a 60-53 lead into the locker room. The Nuggets scored the last 10 points of the half, capped by Anthony’s 3-pointer from the top of the circle after taking the inbounds with just 2 seconds on the shot clock.
Anthony sank an 18-foot jumper while tumbling over backward and then hit a 17-footer as Denver scored the first nine points of the third quarter.
Nene also missed the Nuggets’ other game against Atlanta this season, sitting out Denver’s 109-91 loss at Phillips Arena on Dec. 29 because of a neck injury. … The Hawks finished 2-4 on their Western trip.