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Milwaukee vs. Denver: Bucks Survive Nuggets, 107-99

Milwaukee gets the job done thanks against a depleted Nuggets squad

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Going up against a depleted Nuggets team, the Bucks were able to finish the job and leave Fiserv Forum with a 107-99 victory.

Despite Denver’s starters being benched following a back-to-back, the Bucks still couldn’t generate much traction to start this one out. Following one quarter of action, they found themselves down 27-26. Ish Smith provided a spark off the bench for Denver with eight points in the first frame.

The Nuggets would continue to give the Bucks fits, but Milwaukee would eventually overcome and secure a lead. It wasn’t a major lead though, but rather just five points. Headed to the locker room, they held a 58-53 advantage.

Just over midway in the third, the Bucks would hit some threes that provided them with their largest lead of the game to date. However, Denver wouldn’t roll over and instead rattled off a brief run of their own. Milwaukee wasn’t done in the quarter, though and built up an 81-73 lead following a buzzer-beater half-court shot from Jeff Green.

The fourth saw Milwaukee really begin to take control of this one. Denver began to crumble. They’d do their best to keep up with the Bucks, but ultimately, it was too much for them to overcome. As things would wind down, Milwaukee crossed the finish line with a 107-99 victory.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 33 points. He also hauled in 14 rebounds. Jrue Holiday continued his strong impact, fueling the team with 20 points. Pat Connaughton was impactful with 19 points, including five threes.

For Denver, Aaron Gordon was the lead man, finishing with 26 points.

The Bucks will now travel to Indiana before returning home for a Sunday evening matchup vs. New Orleans.

Three Observations

It was disappointing to not see Denver’s star players.

Count me as one of the people who were disappointed in Jokic, Murray, and others not suiting up for this one — and I wasn’t even a fan. However, I understand it and don’t fault Michael Malone one bit. The back-to-backs have gotten ridiculous and I completely understand load management in the NBA. I think the only way around it would be either spreading out the back-to-backs (which would mean extending the season) or having fewer games in the regular season. I doubt the NBA would go that route though, as that’d be a significant loss of money. I’m interested to hear everyone else’s thoughts in the comments. As for how it impacted the players, I asked Jrue Holiday what it’s like to hear that star players like Jokic, Murray, & Co. are sidelined:

Pat Connaughton had quite the impact.

While Khris Middleton continued to be sidelined, Pat Connaughton saw the starting lineup. He responded in a huge way, tallying a season-high 19 points and five threes. Despite having his name floated around in trade rumors among Bucks fans, Connaughton continues to deliver for Milwaukee. It really is quite incredible just how impactful he’s been in spurts for the Bucks, and last night was another example of that. Sure, his shot isn’t always there, but when it is, it’s on — and last night it helped the Bucks secure a W. He’ll likely continue to have an increased role as Bobby Portis is sidelined.

The Bucks did a terrific job flipping the script on turnovers.

In the first half, the Bucks coughed up the ball 12 times. It was one of the biggest keys that allowed Denver to stick around in the opening quarters. However, as the game progressed, Milwaukee’s turnovers dwindled. They’d finish with just seven in the second half. In his postgame presser, Bud was asked what he attributed that differentiation to but he didn’t have an exact reason. He ended up summing it up as a sense of pride in protecting the basketball. Ultimately, it was something that the Bucks needed to clean up in order to win the game, and they did just that.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • This was Khris Middleton’s second game back since returning from injury. In his 15 minutes of action, he registered ten points on 2-of-4 shooting. It’s tough to ask too much for him, as it’s not fair to expect vintage Middleton to come out right away. However, as the games move on, his usage will continue to increase.
  • Bones Hyland is the coolest name in the NBA. I don’t think anything even comes close.
  • Giannis started strong from the free throw line, but cooled off later in the night. His final stat line read 15-of-22 from the floor.
  • Remember that Aaron Gordon vs. Zach LaVine Dunk Contest? That was awesome.
  • The level of physicality against Giannis continues to seem pretty brutal. At some points, Denver’s only line of defense against him was to simply tackle him. There was a moment where Giannis went down grabbing his knee, bringing the Fiserv Forum crowd to a quiet halt. Ultimately, he was fine, but that’s still something you never want to see.
  • Last, Ish Smith scored ten points for the Nuggets. He played with the Bucks in the 2012-13 season, which got me thinking. I tweeted this trivia question out, but I’m still going to include it here. There are two currently active NBA players that played before him on the Bucks. Can you name them?