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Milwaukee vs. Denver: Bucks Gasp For Air, Fall To Nuggets

Jokic got the best of Giannis in this one.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The league-leading Milwaukee Bucks came off their convincing win over the Jazz on Friday with a disappointing outing against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. Playing in the mountains is never easy, but when the quality of the opponent matches your own and the team is traveling for a game on the second night of a back-to-back (hello SEGABABA, my old friend…) and the officials make it clear they don’t want to hear your take on how the game is being called…well, you’re gonna have a bad time. The Bucks did, and now they move on to Detroit on Monday.

Three Things

The three-point shooting differential hit Milwaukee hard tonight. In the first quarter, the Bucks hit 4 threes and seemed to have everything humming along on offense. But they proceeded to only make 3 more across the next two quarters, which is largely what put them in the fourth quarter hole they found themselves in. Denver kept pace and hit their shots (12-for-27 in the first three quarters) and made hay at the foul line (17-for-21 on foul shots); if both of those are fueling your opponent’s offense it takes an awful lot to keep up.

Nikola Jokic had Brook Lopez out of his rhythm tonight, and the defense fell apart. Granted, Jokic gets his against most defenders across the NBA, but Lopez was uncharacteristically sloppy – and feisty – in Denver. With four personal fouls and a tech called from the bench, Lopez played only 19 minutes in this one. He was his usual self on offense, but on defense there were too many times where Jokic found an angle to attack and Brook couldn’t avoid making contact while providing resistance. Jokic finished the evening at 31 points and 11 assists, proving once again that the Bucks’ defense isn’t something that contains him very effectively. Granted, defense in an extended seven-game series is handled differently than one played with less than 24 hours turnaround time from the previous contest, but one thing is for sure: against the base defense, Nikola Jokic can pick Milwaukee apart.

As a fan of a team well-acquainted with All-Star snubs, Jamal Murray sure seems like an All-Star snub. He’s not the most consistent guard, but when his shot is falling he’s an electric talent. Murray had 26 points on 19 shots (including 5-for-10 on threes) to go with 9 assists and 6 boards, but the way in which he gets his points is impressive. He takes high degree-of-difficulty attempts and was able to shake loose of Jrue Holiday, Jevon Carter, and any other perimeter defender Milwaukee threw his way. His availability seemingly undermined the otherwise-potent Nuggets’ playoff efforts in years past; right now, he seems fully online. Watch out for Denver in the Western Conference.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Milwaukee opened their scoring with two emphatic dunks from Giannis Antetokounmpo. If you’re going to get tickets to a game where the Bucks are visiting, that’s exactly why you pay the price of admission.
  • Nikola Jokic, the reigning two-time MVP, has scratches up and down both of his arms. It looks remarkably unpleasant for him. To reiterate, if Giannis doesn’t get MVP, Jokic can have it.
  • In the first quarter, the Bally Sports Wisconsin broadcast showed a graphic with Milwaukee’s 18-3 record on back-to-back games this season, which is sort of astounding. They fell to 18-4 tonight, and have two more back-to-backs coming up (@ Indiana / vs. Boston next week, and @ Washington / vs. Chicago the first week of April).
  • Brook Lopez was subbed out for Bobby Portis strangely early, at about the 6 minute mark of the first period. To his credit, Bobby held up well during his first possession on a Nikola Jokic standing up a post-up and actually forcing a miss, which most NBA players can’t say!
  • I know Michael Porter Jr. is an excellent shooter, but I had no idea that his shooting form had his feet so close together! I was always taught that you had to keep your knees roughly shoulder-width apart, but you can’t fit anything even between Porter Jr’s ankles on his jumper.
  • During a timeout in the first quarter, we had an on-court proposal during the in-game entertainment! The answer was yes, and while the happy couple only spent a few minutes on the court, but I’ll bet that the memory will last for a lifetime.
  • Speaking of the first quarter, Jamal Murray was scorching. With 18 points (including 4 threes), he single-handedly kept Denver afloat while Milwaukee’s offense churned out buckets.
  • The Bucks were equally hot to start, but they got theirs based on exceptional ball-movement; 13 assists on 16 made baskets. If only that had lasted.
  • Khris Middleton tossed an alley-oop to Giannis in the second quarter that was (somehow) too high, but Giannis managed to at least tip the ball on the way down so that it fell into the basket. Not pretty, but it counts!
  • In the first half, Milwaukee seemed to be getting a relatively friendly whistle, at least as far as visiting teams go. A number of plays ended up with “ohhhhs” and “heyyy!” from the Denver crowd, and head coach Mike Malone earned a technical foul for his vociferous disagreement with the no-calls.
  • Bobby Portis reacted poorly (well, according to the ref) to a foul call in the third quarter and earned a technical foul of his own, but Nikola Jokic (who was fouled by getting hit in the chin) thought it was a double-tech and reacted about as incredulously as you might expect, considering the guy got hit in the face and…did nothing. It wasn’t a moment that went in Milwaukee’s favor, but it was funny.
  • Brook Lopez earned himself a tech from the bench, after getting subbed out upon getting called for his fourth personal foul. Lopez doesn’t commit fouls often, and technical fouls are even less frequent.
  • Not wanting to be left out of the T Party, Giannis Antetokounmpo was charged for a tech in the fourth quarter as a personal foul of his was reviewed for a possible upgrade to a flagrant. It wasn’t immediately clear how far out of line Giannis was when talking to the ref, but given how the night had gone, the officiating crew wasn’t exactly open to hearing alternative opinions on their calls.
  • Jeff Green – still in the league! – put down a dunk at the opening of the third quarter that brought the house down. Uncle Jeff can still get up! …but he took a hard landing, and ended up being tended to by the trainers after the next possession. Age comes for all of us, sooner or later.
  • As the Bucks went to a small lineup (Giannis-Wes-Pat-Grayson-Jrue) in the fourth quarter with Jokic on the bench, Denver decided to blitz Giannis and double him anytime he was on the ball. It worked well enough to disrupt any actions that Milwaukee tried to get into, allowing the Nuggets to escape their Jokic-less minutes with the same lead they started with.
  • Denver’s game ops deserve credit for a subtle bit of psychological warfare embedded in the design of their home court. At the free throw line, the numbers “5280” are etched onto the hardwood right in front of where a shooter would go for foul shots, as a subliminal reminder of the city’s elevation above sea level. It’s a simple – perhaps somewhat tacky – way to get into the opponent’s head without saying anything, but the message is clear.
  • We had MarJon Minutes after this one was out of reach! Beauchamp seemed to be struggling with his handle tonight, but still managed a tough layup in traffic and a deep three pointer during his limited run, giving Bucks fans yet another reason for optimism for his long-term prospects in Milwaukee. Keep working, MarJon!
  • The main number that matters right now: 7. With a combined seven wins for Milwaukee and losses by Boston (who currently holds second place in the East), the Bucks could wrap up the top spot in the conference.