ATLANTA — At age 31, Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic qualifies as a rookie in definition only. The Macedonian’s years of international experience paid dividends again Saturday night when he calmly made what turned out to be the winning shot in the final minute.
Antic hit an off-balanced fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner as the shot clock expired with 41.8 seconds remaining to spark the Hawks to a 97-92 win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.
Antic finished with 16 points, one shy of his career best, to help prevent Atlanta from blowing a 21-point second-half lead. Antic also had a crucial offensive rebound following a missed free throw, his only rebound of the game, to secure the win.
“He has a knack for making the big play,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “And that tipout on the rebound was big also. He’s been in some big games and big situations. His teammates trust him. We all trust him. And sometimes you’ve got to be a little lucky and make some big shots.”
It was the third straight win for the Hawks, the first time that happened since Dec. 16-20, and solidified their hold on the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The win broke Atlanta’s two-game losing streak against Denver and ended the Nuggets’ two-game winning streak.
Atlanta (29-35) was led by forward Paul Millsap with 23 points and 10 rebounds, his 21st double-double of the year. Forward Kyle Korver was 4-for-4 on 3-pointers and scored 18 points and guard Jeff Teague had 15 points and 10 assists.
Denver (29-37) was led by forward Kenneth Faried with 25 points and seven rebounds. Forward Wilson Chandler added 12 points before fouling out. Guard Ty Lawson, who averages a team-high 18.5 points, scored only two and was 0-for-12 from the field, but did tally 11 assists and nine rebounds.
“We had been getting out to good starts, but tonight our starters got off the a slow start,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win the game but we just didn’t make the plays we needed down the stretch.”
The 6-foot-11 Antic is regaining his form after missing 17 games with a stress fracture in his right ankle. In his six games back he has scored in double figures five times, twice with 16.
“I’m comfortable on this team,” Antic said. “After the injury I didn’t expect it would all come together so fast. Others guys help me, and the coaching staff. I’m just having fun on the court.”
The game looked like it might be a rout. Atlanta scored the first five points of the third quarter and upped its lead to 21, but the Nuggets responded with an 18-4 run and cut the lead to 62-55 on a 3-pointer by guard Randy Foye.
“We were very lethargic in the first half,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “The way we played in the third and fourth quarter is the way we needed to play from the beginning.”
Atlanta answered with a 9-1 run punctuated by a guard Dennis Shroder’s driving layup that make it 73-59 with 2:26 left, only to have Denver finish the quarter by scoring eight unanswered points, including guard Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer at the horn, to make it 77-71. Denver shot 75 percent (12-for-16) from the field in the quarter.
“The third-quarter defense was not where we needed it to be,” Budenholzer said. “And that’s where they were able to cut into the lead.”
Denver scored the first six points of the fourth period and tied the game at 77 on a driving layup by guard Aaron Brooks with 10:27 left. Denver took its first lead on forward Darrell Arthur’s free throw with 7:10 left. There were seven more lead changes before Antic gave Atlanta the lead for good.
“I think our group continues to be resilient,” Budenholzer said. “It’s tough when a team fights back on you and erases a big lead like that. To kind of gather yourself and find a way to win speaks to the resiliency of the group.”
NOTES: Denver held advantages of Atlanta in points in the paint (44-26), bench points (39-13), fast-break points (22-12) and second-chance points (14-8). … Atlanta C Pero Antic has made a 3-pointer in nine straight games. … Atlanta G Lou Williams was dressed again on Saturday after missing Thursday’s game to be present for the birth of his daughter. But Williams did not play for the fifth straight game. … Denver’s win over Miami on Friday gave the team its first 2-0 sweep since the 2008-09 season. The Nuggets’ win over Miami marked the 10th time this season that they have come back from 10-plus points to win. … Injured and unavailable for Atlanta were Gustavo Ayon (right shoulder surgery), Al Horford (right pectoral muscle surgery) and John Jenkins (lower back surgery). Injured and unavailable for Denver were Danilo Gallinari (left knee ACL tear), JaVale McGee (left tibia stress fracture) and Nate Robinson (left ACL sprain). … Atlanta’s next game is Monday in Charlotte. Denver returns home to play the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.
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