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Bucks vs. Nuggets: Milwaukee Leaves Denver After Coughing Game Away

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Milwaukee shoots itself in the foot time and again down the stretch to lose this contest

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What looked like an inspiring way to end a road trip turned into disaster as the Milwaukee Bucks made unforgivable errors in the final minutes to lose 128-125 to the Denver Nuggets in overtime. The Milwaukee Bucks looked dominating from tipoff, commanding a 34-22 lead following the first quarter. Milwaukee gave Denver plenty of freebies from the line in the second quarter, missing almost all of their shots while the Nuggets took a 63-54 advantage at halftime. The Bucks buttoned down defensively in the third, holding the Nuggets to just 16 points and grabbing a 92-79 lead when the fourth quarter started. Giannis left the game after fouling out in the fourth and Milwaukee promptly coughed up its lead. Khris Middleton turned the ball over late on an inbounds before Jason Terry fouled Jamal Murray as regulation wound down to allow the Nuggets to tie it up at 111 heading into OT. It was as groan-worthy an ending as it gets when Jabari Parker’s 3-point attempt to tie it in OT fell woefully short.

Three Main Observations

The Crafty Joker

Not that Thon Maker should ever be included with the word “difference Maker” in the same sentence, but Tyler Zeller really struggled with Nikola Jokic’s perimeter-oriented game tonight. Even with Jokic’s limited athleticism, his slow-moving maneuverability from the arc to the hoop often left Zeller in his wake or opened up passing lanes for Nuggets players. Maker would’ve likely bit too much on fake passes or drawn lazy fouls with Jokic’s crafty game under the rim, but at least he has the foot speed to try and deter him from magically finding himself in the paint.

Free Throw Frenzy

The Milwaukee Bucks seemed entirely intent on fouling the Denver Nuggets at every opportunity in the second quarter. After looking like a dominating offensive squad in the first, Milwaukee allowed Denver 22 free throws attempts (hitting 20), slowing down the pace of the game and any of the Bucks’ flow they showed in the first. That disadvantage was only made worse by the Bucks’ horrendous shooting percentage in the second period. Milwaukee entered halftime with a 135 defensive rating. Small sample size of course, but the Bucks giving Denver free points alleviated them from having to hit from deep, where they were just 6-19 (31.6%). Thankfully, that quarter didn’t turn the game entirely when Milwaukee made a strong push in the third quarter to retake control, although the Nuggets ended with 19 more free throw attempts than Milwaukee.

Jumpin’ Jabari

Jabari Parker had his highest scoring output of the season tonight, finishing with 35 points. His scoring spurts in both the first and third quarters helped Milwaukee reach double-digit leads during each period. His athleticism and willingness to launch from deep tonight was too much for Denver to handle. Any modicum of space they gave him on the perimeter either resulted in a confident pull-up/swish or a drive to the bucket leaving Nuggets players in his dust. He scored in single digits four of the last five games, so his capability to dribble in traffic and control his body flying to the hoop was welcome against Denver’s spotty interior. It’s always a pleasure when Jabari is able to add a scoring punch to Milwaukee’s typical three, and they’ll need his production come playoff time if they want to make any noise.

Bonus Bucks Bits

This is commonplace for Nuggets fans, but Jokic’s passing over the top of defenders to cutters is sublime. His height affords him that capability, but it’s the precision that really stands out. So often, Bucks passes seem to be slightly off the mark, potentially forcing their recipient to adjust slightly before shooting or mucking up the timing of a play. Jokic leads his man like a quarterback, putting the ball in the perfect spot for them to continue their forward momentum.

I get he’s trying to collect some freebies at the line, but Bledsoe’s one-handed push shot from 3-point land while he’s getting fouled is one of the most irritating plays to watch every game.

The twin tower lineup of Plumlee and Jokic provided ample opportunity for Jabari Parker to make hay against the slow-footed Plumlee brother. While he initially didn’t take him to the rack, he maneuvered around the arc to find crevices and pull-up when Plumlee sagged off. Parker’s cooled off a bit after a stretch of hot play, so the chance to face a significantly less athletic defender was a nice way for him to get himself going early. Case in point:

One of my favorite Giannis shots this year was his turnaround elbow jumper that delicately banked into the hoop. I haven’t seen that as much lately, but his gigantic stepback free throw line jumper is creeping up there in my aesthetic rankings. The amount of separation he can get from defenders is absurd and provides an open look almost every time.

Sterling Brown has shown an impressive amount of mettle this year, and at times he’s been able to crossover his man on the perimeter and worm his way to the rim. Tonight, he did so in the second quarter, finding an easy pathway and getting met at the rim by Jokic. Unfortunately, he couldn’t contort his body or finish with strength. Rim finishing remains the weakest part of the game as he’s shooting just 28.3% within 0-3 feet per Basketball Reference. Going into his second year, that will be the part of his game he should aim to clean up.

Denver decimated Milwaukee from the free throw line in the second quarter, going 20/22 from the free throw line while the Bucks shooting percentage cratered.

Tony Snell going coast-to-coast in the second quarter was a surprise, although it wasn’t surprising that when his shot rolled off the rim Giannis was there to clean it up with a slam. It was nice to see Snell attacking confidently though.

It felt like a flashback to Giannis’ young, frustrated seasons in the third when he haphazardly ran into Paul Millsap for an obvious offensive foul and then did a silly reach foul on the other end when Millsap got by him after he cheated over for an attempted steal. Giannis is still 11th in terms of most fouls, but generally they haven’t seemed as sloppy as those. When he got a hook call minutes later, it gave him his fourth personal foul with eight minutes to go in the third.

Giannis is a generous man, but there’s no need to spread the wealth on a fastbreak when your running mate is Tyler Zeller. Giannis could’ve just gone straight up in the third quarter, but at least Zeller drew a foul.

Prunty went full-on Point Giannis to open the fourth quarter tonight, opting to keep Jennings on the bench and have Giannis bring the ball up. He was commanding everyone from above the break and the entire offense ran through him. With Bledsoe, Brogdon and Delly in tow, that sort of look hasn’t been nearly as prominent this year.

Giannis was really unfortunate on several foul calls tonight not heading his way, in particular the final call of the night when Jokic seemed to basically lose his balance.

Milwaukee’s final play, where Khris Middleton’s errant pass was intercepted followed by an idiotic foul on a 3-pointer by veteran Jason Terry, was almost too blunderingly on-brand for the Bucks.

When Milwaukee couldn’t even foul in overtime when they were supposed to, followed by John Henson attempting a 3-point shot, you knew they were destined for the L. What a pitiful way to end this game.