The Denver Nuggets proved to be poor house guests as they rolled into Milwaukee and upended the Bucks 134-123 behind a monster triple-double from Nikola Jokic and a team-record in made three-pointers. Denver posted its most points in a first half this season and Jokic put up 30 points, 15 rebounds and 17 assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo put up a triple-double of his own with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists but 26 points from Jamal Murray, 28 from Gary Harris and 19 from Will Barton, all behind a barrage of threes – 24 in all – were just too much for the Bucks to overcome.

Denver won the tip and immediately Jokic went to work inside.  Giannis blocked his first shot but Jokic got the carom and the putback. Will Barton nailed a three that Giannis matched on the other end. Gary Harris swished a Jokic pass for one three and Barton made another to put Denver up 11-3 early.  

Harris split two Milwaukee shot-blockers for a layup but Eric Bledsoe hit one of his own on the other end. The two teams traded threes, then Middleton missed a free-throw on a four-point play opportunity. Jokic assisted another layup, this one from Barton, then had a turnover followed by an offensive rebound and put-back. Jokic’s fingerprints were all over the first quarter but Denver shied away from a few extra layups thanks to the shot-blockers the Bucks put on the court. Gary Harris and Jabari Parker traded threes again as both teams stayed hot behind the arc, but Jokic’s 6 / 6 / 6 quarter and 27 combined points from Barton and Gary Harris had Denver up 35-28 after one.

Wilson Chandler opened the second quarter scoring with a three. Denver’s second unit settled for contested jumpers and missed layups for a couple of minutes, though, as Giannis hit a hook shot in the lane to cap an 8-0 run and cut the lead to two. A Devin Harris 3 stopped the bleeding, but Giannis curled easily to the rim for a traditional 3-point play. After more missed jumpers, the Bucks took back the lead at 43-41 for Milwaukee’s first lead of the night. 

Murray, Barton and Jokic came back in for Denver over the next minute and Jokic got a block on one end and three on the other as Denver tried to re-solidify its lead. Jokic hit another jumper, then threw a lead pass to Gary Harris for a pull-up three to drag the lead back to 9 at 54-45.  Giannis got a showcase dunk off a Chandler turnover, but Jokic’s awkward-yet-brutally-effective paint game kept the lead around double-digits. The Bucks benefitted from some ticky-tack fouls on their offensive end, but Jokic got that triple-double – the fastest in history – with just under two minutes to go in the first half, then capped the first 24 minutes with this ridiculous pass, amazing in any language:

Antetokounmpo had 17 points in the first half but his Bucks trailed the Nuggets by 12, 74-62. Both teams came out misfiring in the first couple of minutes of the third quarter, with Thon Maker’s pair of rim makes the first scoring of the quarter. The refs missed another foul on Wilson Chandler, and a turnover from Jamal Murray led to a fast break bucket that cut the lead to 6 as Milwaukee’s defensive energy picked up in a serious way. Jokic hit a paint shot over Maker to start Denver’s second half scoring, then forced the Bucks to foul him on another paint shot as Milwaukee’s defense took Jokic far more seriously. Giannis cut the lead to four on a drive, but Murray nailed a Jokic-assisted 3, then another Jokic-assisted drive to keep the lead at 7, 83-76, at the 6 minute mark.

Murray and Jokic both hit threes to spread the offense, but Giannis attacked the paint to score or pass at will. Murray scored an incredible 17 points in the quarter, most working a two-man game with Jokic to drag the lead back to 14 for Denver at 95-81. Jokic picked up his fourth foul with 2 minutes to go in the quarter, but Lyles made a tough paint shot and a nice 3 to get Denver to 100 points, then another 3 after a tough first half. Lyles had a pair of blocks near the end of the quarter, Murray hit another 3 and the Nuggets finished up 19, 107-88.

Lyles got called for an iffy goaltending to start the fourth quarter, but hit a turning fall-away to make up for it. Giannis is such a tough cover and that was no different in the period as he scored the first 6 points for the Bucks to get to 30 at that point. Gary Harris hit a three, and then a Harris-to-Harris fast break delivered another bucket to push the lead back to 20+. Chandler skied for a huge block but Denver’s offense started settling and coach Michael Malone immediately re-inserted Jokic. The Bucks and Nuggets swapped paint buckets for a few minutes, with an interesting foul call on Giannis against Jokic, but Jokic answered an Eric Blesoe three with one of his own. Jamal Murray made a drive but had a technical called on him at 126-111 with 5 minutes to go.

Jokic could not stay in front of Giannis, who – as usual – put on a show against a team not long enough or athletic enough to slow him down. The Bucks started getting a bunch more strange calls from the refs and Jamal Murray had a bad turnover with his legs taken out and then Giannis elbowed Gary Harris in the head with the foul called on Harris. Jokic got to work on the glass and assisted a Barton 4-point play as Denver simply out-paced the Bucks to the end. The final score was

Final Thoughts

Nikola Jokic is an international treasure. If you don’t like his game, that’s on you. If you can’t appreciate his court wizardry, that’s sort of your fault. Every minute he is on the court is a minute in which something stupendously amazing may happen, and Nuggets fans are growing to anticipate it the way any team does with its superstar. Jokic is doing things that no player at his position has ever done, and if you don’t like it then I’m sorry you don’t appreciate basketball.

Stopping the Nuggets is a chore that most teams aren’t equipped for. Yes, it helps that the Nuggets were hitting all their three-point shots, but this was a Bucks team that is built long and that has troubled many other teams with admittedly-lesser offensive firepower. The Nuggets plowed through that defense like it was tissue paper. Denver’s guards were on fire, Jokic got almost anything he wanted, and when Denver plays like this – and by “this” I mean “by letting the Jokic Offense have free reign” – they are nearly unstoppable despite a defensive effort that resembles a sieve in front of a fire hose. Defensive-minded Nuggets fans are going to have to believe in the old adage for a while: the best defense is a great offense, and Denver’s can be historically great at times.

Happy All-Star Break everyone!