for this game

Nuggets survive scare to snap three-game skid

Feb 26, 2009 - 6:42 AM DENVER (Ticker) -- The Denver Nuggets finally put away the Atlanta Hawks - and with it, their three-game losing streak.

After nearly giving the game up on a pair of costly turnovers in the final minute of play, the Nuggets survived for a 110-109 victory over the Hawks on Wednesday night.

"When you're on a losing streak, you just want a win," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "The fourth quarter was not pretty. It's a win and tomorrow morning when we wake up it will feel like a win."

Denver had built a 17-point lead before losing control in the fourth quarter as Atlanta stormed back. Joe Johnson's 3-pointer with 1:28 left sparked a 7-0 run. The All-Star guard turned Marvin Williams' steal into a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to three with 54 seconds remaining.

"Always keep fighting, because you never know what is going to happen," Williams said. "That is exactly what happened; they let us back in and we almost got a win and we had a chance of winning the game."

The Hawks got it right back, as Maurice Evans stole Chris Andersen's inbounds pass. Al Horford capitalized with a 12-footer, pulling his club to within a single point. But it was that last point that proved to be the most elusive.

Chauncey Billups worked the shot clock down on the other end but misfired from 18 feet. The Hawks got the defensive board and rushed up the court for a potential game-winning shot. But Johnson passed up a decent chance in the paint, passing to Flip Murray, who threw up an off-balance floater that hit the front of the rim as Denver survived.

"I was just trying to make a play, honestly, but when I got in the lane Kenyon (Martin) was standing right there and I didn't want to shoot a jumper - I wanted to get to the cup," Johnson said. "I knew Flip was coming, so I just kind of kicked it back to him."

The Nuggets came into the night reeling, closing their recent road trip with back-to-back losses to sub-.500 teams and returning home on Monday to a rude awakening against the reigning champion Celtics, who dealt them a 38-point loss.

But they rebounded with a bit more offensive firepower against Atlanta, which has dropped three in a row and yielded 100 or more points in four straight contests. The Nuggets seized control late in the first half, as Chauncey Billups' 3-pointer kicked off an 18-4 run.

The All-Star point guard buried a pair of threes, as did Olympian Carmelo Anthony, as the Nuggets turned a seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead by the half.

"I wanted to be extremely aggressive," Anthony said. "With my energy, I wanted to get everybody going."

They built on that after the break, scoring the first nine points of the third quarter. Billups opened things up with a three-point play and Dahntay Jones capped the spurt with a 16-footer to push Denver's lead to 69-53. In a 6 1/2-minute stretch bridging the second and third periods, the Hawks turned the ball over six times and went 1-of-6 from the floor.

"I think we got to get back to playing defense the way we used to play a month or two ago," Anthony said. "I think we just need to get on the court and practice. We haven't had any practice time in the last month or so. I think we will get back to that."

The Nuggets' lead ballooned to as high as 17 later in the quarter, as Johan Petro buried a pair of jumpers to make it an 85-68 contest. But the Hawks climbed back into it in the final frame - thanks to some suddenly messy play on the part of Denver and Williams' sudden offensive aggressiveness.

The fourth-year forward scored eight straight points, including a pair of three-point plays, over the first 2:12 of the fourth to cut the Nuggets' lead to 92-86. Williams led the Hawks with 31 points and seven boards in a losing cause.

"I saw the tide changing a little bit at the start of the fourth quarter," Billups said. "They started out very aggressive picking up full court, we turned the ball over two or three times early in the fourth, got a couple bad shots, so I'd seen the tide kind of changing. I tried to tell the guys, 'They have gotten aggressive and we were being passive, let's pick it up.'"

Billups carried the Nuggets with 33 points and seven assists, while Anthony added 23 and 10 rebounds. It was a pivotal win for the Nuggets, who have seen their stranglehold on the Northwest Division diminish in the midst of their recent struggles. With the two-time defending division champion Utah Jazz winning six in a row and the Portland Trail Blazers closing in, the Nuggets can use all the wins they can get.

Thanks to this survival effort and Portland's loss to San Antonio, the Nuggets' division lead is 2 1/2 games over the Blazers (35-22) and three over the Jazz (35-23).