The Denver Nuggets didn’t go to sleep until nearly five in the morning and had to play the Milwaukee Bucks in Milwaukee less than twenty-four hours after they defeated the Utah Jazz in Denver. Missing three starters, plus Mason Plumlee, and facing the top team in the NBA it seemed all but a foregone conclusion that they would lose. They did not. The Bucks, behind a great game from Giannis Antetokounmpo, got an early lead and looked to have the blowout but Denver fought back and, just like last night, they rode a huge third quarter to take the lead and never look back. Every single player who got minutes scored in double figures and a total team effort earned the Nuggets their biggest win of the year. Denver takes it going away 127-115.
The game did not start out well for Denver as Wesley Matthews led an early charge and the Bucks held a solid lead almost immediately. The Nuggets called a timeout after the lead got to nine but regardless of what they did on defense they had nothing going on offense and managed just four points in the first four minutes of the game. Their three point shooting came alive after that with Torrey Craig and Will Barton knocking them down but Milwaukee was able to keep pace enough to keep the lead. Craig was playing well on offense but was getting cooked by Khris Middleton who was knocking down threes and getting to the lane with ease. Milwaukee’s bench slowed their roll a bit but outside of Michael Porter Jr. Denver’s bench wasn’t getting anything going on the offensive end so Milwaukee’s lead remained above double digits. Finally as the quarter closed the bench found their stroke and started hitting threes but they were playing five against eight with the refs giving Giannis every call. The Nuggets closed out the quarter with Malik Beasley getting called for a technical and the Bucks up by eight.
The bench continued to play well to start the second with Jerami Grant as the lone starter on the floor and leading the way. Denver got it as close as three before the Bucks pushed back behind Eric Bledsoe. MPJ and Juancho Hernangomez were carrying the Nuggets through the second quarter. Juancho hit a three right around the halfway point to get up to ten points and cut the Milwaukee lead to five. The starters were really struggling shooting though, particularly Will Barton and Nikola Jokic, and when they came back in Milwaukee started to push the lead back out. Giannis was doing everything on the Bucks end and nearly had a triple double in the first half. Behind the MVP Milwaukee pushed the lead back up to double digits but the Nuggets responded with the half coming to an end. After it was over Denver still trailed by seven.
WOW.— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) February 1, 2020
Sure seems like a star in the making to us............... pic.twitter.com/ZFiiFYmWu6
The defense that was entirely absent the first half was strong the begin the second. The Bucks didn’t make a shot for over three minutes and Denver climbed back in the game and managed to tie it on a pair of Michael Porter Jr. free throws. Giannis fought back with a highlight dunk but Barton was cooking and Malik Beasley found his stroke to give the Nuggets their first lead of the game. Jerami Grant was the next Nugget to come alive by scoring eight straight and the Nuggets lead grew to six forcing a Bucks timeout. Denver’s bench kept the heat on, Beasley was really knocking them down in particular and stretched the lead to double digits. Barton finished off the incredible quarter for Denver with a three right in the eye of Matthews to give the Nuggets a nine point lead heading into the fourth.
P.J. Dozier was having a really good game and opened the quarter with an and-one before a scary moment where Porter went down with what looked like a twisted ankle. He went to the locker room but returned to the bench shortly after, he did not return to the game. Meanwhile the Nuggets were keeping pace with the Bucks and maintaining an eight point lead. Jokic, as he has done so many times, became a force in the fourth quarter and bullied his way to a couple buckets then Juancho flushed a fast break dunk forcing Mike Budenholzer once again to call a timeout in frustration with the Nuggets lead a cool bakers dozen. The timeout cooled off Denver but the Bucks weren’t hitting their shots either. Against any other team time would become a factor but Milwaukee’s outstanding offense quickly flipped the switch and closed the lead to eight with four minutes to go. The Bucks got it all the way to six before Barton and Beasley hit back to back threes and carried the twelve point lead to the two minute mark. Another scary moment happened when Giannis went down with what appeared to be some sort of upper leg injury which seemed to take away any motivation Milwaukee had left. The game winded down, the Nuggets carried their double digit lead to the buzzer. Denver wins 127-115.
Best matchup: Will Barton vs. Khris Middleton
Giannis stole the show for Milwaukee and it was an all around effort on Denver’s side but Barton and Middleton both had great games with big moments. Middleton was everything the Nuggets could handle in the first quarter which was a large contributing factor to the Bucks early lead. Meanwhile Barton was struggling. In the second half though they flipped the script with Barton coming alive in particular. He ended up leading Denver in scoring on the night and effectively put the dagger in Milwaukee’s chances. It can’t be overstated how good Will has been this year. He’s clearly the second best player on the roster right now and has become an indispensable part of the team.
Main thing I noticed: another tough injury
Hopefully MPJ’s ankle is nothing serious. Denver officially called him questionable to return in the game so that would make it seem like it wasn’t too bad. Still, ankles can be tricky, particularly for tall, explosive guys like Porter. If he ends up missing time it’ll have to continue to be next man up for Denver. Luckily, guys like Beasley and Juancho looked really good tonight and more than capable of filling in. We know of course it’s been a bit of a roller coaster with everyone on the Nuggets, those guys included, so any hit to the depth hurts. Here’s hoping MPJ makes a quick recovery.
Closing thought: outstanding victory
That was one of the best wins I’ve seen from the Nuggets in a long time. As coach said before the game, nobody gave Denver a chance to win. The fact that they beat the best team in the NBA on a back to back and virtually no sleep is damn impressive but what I love about the victory even more is the way they did it. Everyone contributed and every single guy had a big stretch at some point right when the Nuggets needed it. You can’t say enough about the resiliency of this team, there simply is no quit. It’s nights like tonight that remind you why this iteration of the Denver Nuggets has the potential to be so special.