DENVER — Kenyon Martin ducked into the X-ray room to check on Royal Ivey.
It was the least the Denver Nuggets forward could do. After all, he was the reason Ivey, a reserve guard for Atlanta, was getting treated for a mild concussion.
At least partially responsible. Although it was Martin’s hard
pick on Ivey late in the first quarter that floored him, he feels Ivey’s teammates are culpable for the injury, which included a chipped tooth that Ivey swallowed.
“His teammates got to call that out,” Martin said after Denver’s 97-74 win. “He should be mad. If we didn’t call that out for Earl (Boykins) or Andre (Miller), they would be mad.”
Ivey was knocked out, but it wasn’t until after halftime that the Nuggets did the same to the rest of the Hawks. The Nuggets and Hawks did a poor impression of NBA teams in the first 24 minutes, combining for 36 percent shooting. Atlanta led 34-33 at the break, but the Nuggets nearly doubled their output in the third quarter, outscoring the Hawks 32-16 to get an easy win after a horrendous first half.
“It was like damn rec ball out there,” Martin said.
Martin didn’t get to join in on the fun in the second half. He played just eight minutes because of left knee tendonitis that has bothered him most of the season.
“Tendonitis, pain, whatever you want to call it,” he said after sitting out the last three quarters. “It’s frustrating.”
Martin has played in 54 of Denver’s 57 games, but he could miss Thursday’s game against Indiana because of his knee.
“It’s up in the air,” he said.
The Nuggets didn’t need him against Atlanta. Newcomer Eduardo Najera filled in nicely, playing 25 minutes and scoring 11 points, although his highlight was his altercation with Atlanta guard Tyronn Lue.
With 5 minutes, 50 seconds left in the game, Najera stole the ball from Lue and headed for an easy bucket. Out of frustration, Lue threw several punches at Najera’s midsection, although Najera didn’t realize he was being attacked.
“Sincerely, I don’t know. I tipped the ball and I just saw a wide open layup and I didn’t even see what he was trying to do,” he said. “I assume he was just trying to foul me, but I was just trying to get away from the dunk.
“I felt something. I think he was like trying to hold me.”
Lue was called for a flagrant foul and ejected from the game, and Hawks head coach Mike Woodson got a technical foul. Najera hit his free throws, and Boykins added another for the technical to give Denver an 82-66 lead.
It was a lead that didn’t seem possible after a first half that made everyone cringe.
“I knew we were going to win the game, but I just didn’t want it to be as ugly as it started,” Bryon Russell said. “Take ’em how you can get ’em.”
Apparently, George Karl had something to do with the turnaround.
“Coach chewed us out,” said Carmelo Anthony, who scored a game-high 23 points. “We knew how poorly we came out from the get-go. The second half we picked it up, turned our defense up, got into our game plan, which was to run up and down the court.”
The win moved Denver (28-29) within a game of the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and they’re starting to scoreboard watch.
“We right there,” Anthony said.
The Nuggets might not have the luxury of playing a poor first half against the Pacers on Thursday if they want to keep climbing in the playoff race and add to their three-game winning streak, and they know it.
“I assume it’s going to be different for Indiana, and I’m sure everybody is going to be pumped for that,” Najera said. “But tonight was a little bit different, and energy is a big factor in these types of games.”