The Denver Nuggets welcomed the Milwaukee Bucks to the Pepsi Center Friday night, and also welcomed Nikola Jokic back to the starting lineup. Jokic responded by not missing a beat and notching the first triple double of his career. He wouldn’t have to do it alone though, Jamal Murray and Kenneth Faried also had big nights giving the Nuggets fans a glimpse into a very bright future. The Bucks superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, did everything he could for the visiting team and with the help of Jabari Parker they led a strong charge in the second half to get back in the game but the Nuggets rode their star player’s big night to a win.

Wilson Chandler opened the game with a highlight block on Antetokounmpo but on the offensive end Denver was committing far too many turnovers. They calmed down and Jokic picked up right where he left off, scoring six of Denver’s first eight points while Faried feasted on offensive boards. Milwaukee wasn’t going to let Denver run away with it though as the Bucks were getting contributions all around. The Nuggets looked particularly vulnerable to Antetokounmpo high pick and rolls. After a timeout the Nuggets went on a 9-0 run, fueled by Jokic, and it was very apparent how much better he makes the team. It was also apparent that the Nuggets can’t defend a wet paper bag as the Bucks consistently were getting open looks from behind the arc while Greg Monroe dominated the paint. Murray checked in for Denver and responded with a pair of floaters and a corner three. All in all it was a very Nuggets quarter and the first ended tied 31-31.

Antetokounmpo opened the second by flying above the rim for a dunk and shortly thereafter delivered another. Darrell Arthur tried to respond with a similar dunk, but lost it out of bounds. Coach Malone was trying to defend the Greek freak with Juancho Hernangomez but the rookie was just not up to the task. He was giving his best effort but talent was beating effort every time down the court. Denver tied the game back up at 37 with a pretty Murray lay up, who was playing very well, and followed that with a DA three. Will Barton also started chipping in but the Nuggets couldn’t pull away for two reasons: turnovers and a freakishly long and athletic Greek man. At the six minute mark Jokic checked back in, promptly buried a mid range jumper, stole a pass and threw a full court assist to Murray. After a timeout he’d hit a three and then made another Magic Jokic pass to Chandler as the Nuggets went on a 13-2 run to build a double digit lead. The Joker continued to dominate as the quarter wound down, getting to double digit points and rebounds before the half and the Nuggets entered the break with a seventeen point lead

Gary Harris got the Nuggets started right in the second half with a three, and then got a pretty feed from Jokic for a reverse slam which was Nikola’s seventh assist, the triple double watch was officially on. Immediately after that Jokic fed Harris again for another assist. Then he got his ninth assist with a pretty feed to Faried. Thon Maker was filling the void left by Antetokounmpo , who inexplicably checked out four minutes into the half, but the Bucks couldn’t stop fouling and put the Nuggets in the bonus with over seven minutes to go. Oddly it was that moment that the Bucks captured some momentum and went on a 9-0 run to trim the Nuggets lead to thirteen. The Nuggets got lackadaisical and the Bucks started denying Jokic the ball which helped them to work their way back into the game. Nikola would bury another three before checking out, stuck on nine assists, and that put the Nuggets back up by double digits. Murray checked in and picked up where Nikola left off with the scoring but Antetokounmpo was back as well and the teams traded baskets down the stretch which left Denver with a 98-89 lead after three.

After a pair of Henson buckets to open the fourth the Bucks pulled within six before DA responded with a corner three. Once the Bucks got it down to five with just over seven minutes to go Jokic checked back in. At this point the Nuggets were in for a dog fight as Antetokounmpo was trying to carry the Bucks to a victory but the Nuggets were getting to the line. Jokic kept getting so tantalizing close to that tenth assist but Giannis kept erasing shots at the rim and as the quarter passed the six minute mark the Nuggets lead was just four. Parker was also killing the Nuggets down the stretch with Denver clinging to the lead. Jokic snagged a rebound and through a long outlet pass to Faried for a jam which sealed his first career triple double. However, for every big play Jokic made, Antetokounmpo responded with a big play of his own. Parker got a layup with 1:40 to go to trim the lead to one before Jameer Nelson hit a three to put it back at four. Faried snagged an offensive board after a Harris miss with 21 seconds left and got fouled. He converted one of two free throws and Parker traveled on the following inbound which sealed the deal for Denver. Nuggets hold on to win 121-117.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Giannis Antetokounmpo

These two guys didn’t match up one on one all that often but each showed why they are the future of big men in the NBA. Giannis’ length and athleticism was on full display, but also his ball handling skills, consistently taking guys off the dribble and blowing by them to get to the rack in about two steps. He put the team on his shoulders as they made thier comeback attempt. I’m not sure why Jason Kidd took him out so early in the third quarter but you can point to that as one of the reason’s Milwaukee lost the game. Jokic meanwhile racked up his first triple double, which he nearly had before the third quarter was halfway over. Nikola continues to show what makes him so special and its getting to the point where we have to stop saying he’s one of the best passing centers or best passing big men in the league and leave it as he’s one of the best passers in the league period.

Main thing I noticed: Altitude gave us a shout out!

Let’s be honest, the analysis part of this recap is going to be all about Jokic so I’m going to use this section to reach out to anyone who’s new to the site or anyone who didn’t catch the post earlier but we’ve got a brand new T-shirt at the Denver Stiffs featuring none other than Magic Jokic himself. If you saw it on Altitude’s broadcast and are wondering where you can get your very own, click right here.

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Closing thought: The future is bright

We got a taste of what it’s like when both Jokic and Murray are on tonight and it was the play of those two that pushed the lead out to twenty two in the third quarter. The Bucks got back into it when Jokic was on the bench and the Nuggets have to figure out a way to be effective on offense when he’s not playing but the star power of Nikola and the star potential of Murray is unquestionable. The Nuggets are going to be set up for years to come behind these two guys and if Harris or Hernangomez or Mudiay can also develop into a very good player then we can expect the Nuggets to be making deep runs in the playoffs for a long time to come.

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