The Denver Nuggets have run through a gauntlet of the Eastern Conference’s best teams over the past two weeks and it culminated tonight with the Milwaukee Bucks and their new coach Doc Rivers. Nikola Jokic delivered on yet another triple double but Milwaukee had a big night from Giannis Antetokounmpo in a game that was a battle for the entire forty-eight minutes. Denver found just enough life and Jamal Murray finished off his big night carrying Denver down the stretch with Jokic to ultimately prevail in a 113-107 victory.

The Bucks came out hot, particularly Khris Middleton who hit a pair of threes as Milwaukee built a quick lead. Meanwhile, Denver looked fairly listless out of the gate. Before you knew it Michael Malone was calling timeout with his team trailing by eleven. Milwaukee was getting whatever they wanted while the Nuggets mustered just eleven points in the first six minutes of the game. Giannis checked out shortly after that but the combination of Middleton and Denver going ice cold from three kept Denver from going on any sort of run. Milwaukee’s red hot start eventually regressed to the mean and the Nuggets finally made some headway with the quarter winding down. Jokic and Murray did most of the damage and brought Denver all the way back. Reggie Jackson knocked down a timely three with about ten seconds to go. After the first Denver trailed 26-25.

It was back and forth to open the second. Giannis did his best to assert his will against Peyton Watson who was doing as well as he could against the former MVP. Damian Lillard got into the act after that but to the Nuggets bench’s credit they were able to survive the non-Jokic minutes with Denver only trailing by two when he checked back in. Lillard continued to apply the pressure on the Bucks end but Jokic was making plays for Denver as the game stayed back and forth. Brook Lopez started raining threes which put Milwaukee back in front. Denver fought back behind Murray who drove the lane repeatedly. He stayed hot all the way to the end of the half and got the Nuggets tied at the break, 56 all.

The Bucks opened the second half hot while the refs also swallowed their whistles so Milwaukee took brief lead before Denver pushed back again. It was pretty sloppy for the first five minutes of the third quarter and thus neither team gained an advantage. The Bucks played aggressive defense which played into the lack of calls but they weren’t getting a ton of offense on the other end. Jokic started to assert himself as the quarter progressed and was able to get a small lead for Denver. The Bucks continued to struggle to get points with Giannis now on the bench but the Nuggets were struggling to string together baskets as well. With the quarter winding down Denver finally found their groove. Joker secured yet another triple double while Watson finished a tough layup and the lead was up to eight. Giannis was back in and attacked right at the close of the quarter to draw a foul where he sunk one of two free throws and the lead for Denver was 82-75.

DeAndre Jordan opened the fourth quarter finishing a monstrous alley-oop but the Bucks quickly reversed the momentum by getting an offensive foul call on Murray and following it up with a big Giannis dunk. They trimmed the Nuggets lead all the way to one before Denver took a timeout. The Bucks took the lead shortly thereafter before the Nuggets finally stopped the bleeding. Denver finally started getting some whistles which made Milwaukee sit Giannis and Jokic took advantage, once again pushing Denver to a small lead. Once all the starters checked back in with half the quarter left Denver led by four. Shortly after that Aaron Gordon had to sit with five fouls and Watson came in and immediately paid dividends with a steal to lead a fastbreak. Jokic seemed to sense blood in the water, he kept Denver calm while he and Murray pushed the lead to nine and put Milwaukee in the danger zone with three minutes to go. They refused to die. Lopez hit a big three and then got an offensive rebound on a missed free throw to get Giannis a three. Murray had ice in his veins though, he hit a mid range shot before Gordon erased a Lillard layup and Murray got sent to the free throw line. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope iced it away from there and the Nuggets get a big win 113-107.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs whatever big Milwaukee threw at him

Jan 29, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) controls the ball as Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) guards in the second quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis, Lopez, Bobby Portis, the Bucks threw multiple looks at Jokic and he didn’t really have any trouble picking them apart. He secured the triple double early and had a masterful night of continuously making the correct play. He got a lot of one on one coverage and if any team is going to pull that off it’s Milwaukee with two of the top defensive bigs in the league in Lopez and Giannis. While those guys did a respectable job and limited Jokic’s efficiency, he still ultimately was too big, too skilled and overall too good. Giannis still had a big night in his own right though and Lopez hit a couple big threes, including sparking a run early and keeping Milwaukee’s hopes alive late in the fourth. It just wasn’t quite enough though as Jokic ends up winning the duel despite the multiple defenders who took a crack at him.

Peyton Watson is on his way to becoming one of the best defenders in the league

If PWat can continue to add strength in an NBA weight room he’s going to be an unstoppable defender. Tonight was probably the toughest ask he’s had all season as Malone elected to leave him on his own against Giannis. There’s no stopping a player like him but Watson did the best anyone could ask. His length and athleticism is every bit a match to Giannis, he just doesn’t have the strength. Remember that Antetokounmpo was once a skinny young player in the NBA as well. If Watson can just get strong enough to be able to not get bodied in the post he’s going to be one of the best defenders in the entire league (and he’s well on his way to being that already).

AG cashes The Thing To Bet

We needed just one three from Gordon to make good on our wager tonight and he delivered it for us in the third quarter. It was an unremarkable night from AG on the offensive side but that was to be expected given he was going to spend his whole game trying to matchup with Giannis. Teams are going to continue to make him prove it from the three point line which means he’s going to continue to get open looks from out there and it’ll be up to you on whether or not you want to gamble on him making one.