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Bucks vs. Nuggets final score: Bucks can’t fell Nuggets after first half failures, 121-117

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Milwaukee’s valiant second half comeback falls short

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a spirited second half comeback, the Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t make up for their troubling first half in a 121-117 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

The Bucks were thrashed in the first half, but tightened the screws to cut a 22-point deficit down to one in the waning minutes. Holding them to 45% shooting on the night wasn’t enough because they gave up 18 offensive rebounds.

Both starting frontlines were the headliners tonight; Jabari Parker led the Bucks with a double-double - 27 points (24 in the second half), 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo tallied 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. John Henson played a solid offensive game with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks, and he played about 19 straight minutes to end the game.

Every Bucks player scored tonight, but Nikola Jokic’s first ever triple double (20 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists) carried the Nuggets to victory tonight as the Bucks had their tenth loss in eleven games.

Out of the gates, each team was putting up points. The Bucks were hitting shots early from the Henson lefty-hook range and Teletovic was confident and firing from deep. The Nuggets size and aggression hurt the Bucks on the offensive glass immediately, notching easy second-chance points.

The Teletovic-Parker-Monroe front line continued to hemorrhage offensive rebounds, Jokic grabbed three on three straight possessions, but got lucky with the Nuggets missing a couple wide open shots, one from the corner.

Tied at 31 at the end of the first quarter, both offenses were clicking, but the Nuggets Jamal Murray came in late in the first to knock down back-to-back floaters and a corner three to end the quarter against the Bucks bench defense.

Giannis showed up early in the second quarter for the Bucks first six points with a great run down the lane resulting in a full speed dunk, and then he used a Monroe screen to attack the right wing and euro-stepped his way into the lane for easy buckets at the rim.

Brogdon had a nice drive from the wing around Arthur to register a three-point play, and although he finally got a floater to fall Dellavedova threw the ball away forcing a pass to a rolling Henson. Darrell Arthur’s back to back jumpers coupled with turnovers and defensive breakdowns let the Nuggets get easy layups and wide open jumpers.

A struggling Bucks offense just couldn’t keep up with the Nuggets who kept getting good shots on the Bucks defense. Even after defending well and covering two open corner shooters, the Nuggets got the ball to Jokic in the post and Chandler gave and went from the corner, curled around Jokic with his hand outstretched and Jokic dropped the pass right into his hand as he moved toward the rim for an easy layup - a defensive breakdown on the weakside.

The Bucks offense put up a respectable 53 points in the first half, but they allowed the Nuggets to score 39 in the second quarter alone. Once again the Bucks offensive-minded frontline struggled against the Jokic-Faried duo. Jokic one-hand palmed multiple offensive rebounds down the stretch, one for an easy water polo put back and another he one-hand whipped to Chandler who was fouled.

More defensive breakdowns by the Bucks let Gary Harris dribble along the baseline out to the three point line where, apparently, nobody wanted to follow him, and when Jokic missed a wide open three pointer Faried skied for an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback even though he was sandwiched directly between Monroe and Beasley in the paint.

Thanks to a 26-9 run by the Nuggets in the last six minutes of the half, the Bucks went ended the half down 17 points, 53-70, and committing 11 turnovers.

In an attempt to lift Bucks fans’ spirits, Thon Maker started out the second half in Henson’s place. Although his perimeter defense was more adept for guarding Jokic out to the three point line, Jokic continued to make mincemeat of the Bucks defense by clowning them with perfectly placed passes inside the lane and from the perimeter. Going on an 8-0 run, two Thon threes lifted the Bucks offensively and Parker put in a couple nice buckets dribbling, spinning and stepping back in the lane.

Capitalizing on some missed Nuggets free throws, a spirited Bucks defense forced a turnover late in the shot clock and Parker turned it into a three pointer in transition, cutting the lead to single digits.

Continuing his second half surge Parker’s lob pass to Henson was slammed through the rim and then he turned in an old-fashioned three point play. A rare stretch of great defensive play for the Bucks in the latter half of the third quarter kept them in the game, lingering about nine points behind the Nuggets with great movement on defense, forcing the Nuggets into uncomfortable situations. They couldn’t get the shots they had gotten all night so they kept passing the ball around, but the Bucks defense kept up the intensity through the full 24 seconds.

A 77% shooting mark brought the Bucks back into the game, and they kept attacking early in the fourth. Brogdon and Giannis attacked off the dribble and dished to Henson in the lane for two easy hooks and then a trip to the free throw line. Without Jokic and Faried in the game, the Bucks scraped the boards finally and forced the Nuggets to a lot of one-shot possessions.

Trading successful trips to the stripe, a back-and-forth game kept the Nuggets in control as Jokic’s return gave their offense a flow and precision it lacked during the Bucks comeback. Meanwhile Parker’s jumper was falling from mid range and his quick crossover kept the Nuggets defense on its heels.

Jokic’s baseball outlet pass to Faried got him his 10th assist, but the Bucks were ready to attack after quick rebounds. Parker found Giannis cutting in transition for an easy dunk on the run, and then the Bucks All-Star knocked down a three pointer from the top of the key to cut the lead to one.

The Jokic-Harris chemistry extended their lead, and after another poor no-call on a Giannis drive, Faried was fouled near the rim upon grabbing an offensive rebound off a missed three, putting the nail in the Bucks coffin. Their second half comeback ended the same way they extended their lead to start the game - failing to clean up the defensive glass.

The Bucks fell 121-117 and dropped to 21-28 tonight and will play in Phoenix on Saturday night.

Thoughts:

  • Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes, who came over in the Miles Plumlee trade on Thursday, weren’t at the game, but are expected to be in Phoenix tomorrow, although they aren’t expected to play.
  • Khris Middleton joined Jim Paschke and Marques Johnson for the second quarter and announced he’s expecting to play on Wednesday against the Heat in Milwaukee!
  • Jokic was incredible tonight and you need to watch him play at some point. It’s frightening if he ever faces up the basket around the elbow and scans the court with the ball palmed in one hand. He has tremendous court vision and a feel for the offensive flow that makes him impossible to defend because he could slip that ball into any opening. Fear the one-handed grab of the ball from Jokic, it’s deadly.
  • Jason Terry played a really great game defensively tonight to spur the Bucks second half comeback, including some great one-on-one defense on Jamal Murray -who torched the Bucks in the first half - to help shut him down in the second half. He hit a couple threes and we got a glimpse of the JET celebration as well.
  • Greg Monroe didn’t play at all in the second half after playing 12 minutes in the first quarter. He was just too much of a defensive liability with Jokic in the game, and the Bucks defensive rebounding troubles early verged on Shakespearean levels of tragedy.
  • According to NBA.com’s boxscore, Johnny O’Bryant III was inactive for the Nuggets tonight. Glad to see my favorite NBA player of all time is sticking around in the league!