David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA, but they were unable to figure out the Denver Nuggets this season.
Denver completed its two-game regular-season sweep of the Bucks with a 109-95 victory at Pepsi Center on Monday. Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap led the way, helping the Nuggets improve to 43-21 on the campaign and overcome a stretch of inconsistency that saw them go 4-5 in the previous nine contests.
As for the Bucks, they are still a head-turning 53-12 on the season but have lost three in a row and four of the last five. They were also without a number of players, including MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was sidelined with a knee injury.
Notable Player Stats
- DEN G Jamal Murray: 21 points, six assists and five rebounds
- DEN F Paul Millsap: 20 points and 10 rebounds
- DEN F Jerami Grant: 19 points, six rebounds and three assists
- MIL G Kyle Korver: 23 points, four rebounds, four assists and five three-pointers
- MIL G Sterling Brown: 16 points, six rebounds and three assists
Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant Bail Out Nuggets
Giannis was the biggest name sidelined but far from the only one for the Bucks.
Eric Bledsoe (knee) and George Hill (leg) were both out with injuries, while Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Donte DiVincenzo didn’t play in the second half of a back-to-back. That left Milwaukee with a starting lineup of Pat Connaughton, Robin Lopez, Sterling Brown, Wesley Matthews and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, which is not exactly the fivesome it will use in key playoff games.
That presented Denver with a golden opportunity on its home floor with the closest thing to a free win against a championship contender one could imagine.
The win was much-needed considering the Nuggets entered play one game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed and four games ahead of the seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks with plenty of room for movement in between.
It appeared Denver wouldn’t leave anything to chance when it exploded for 39 points in the first quarter and received a combined 24 from Millsap and Jerami Grant, which was equal to the Bucks’ output.
However, Milwaukee gradually chipped away at the deficit behind red-hot shooting from Kyle Korver and a 2-3 zone that frustrated the Nuggets offense and left the home crowd restless.
It didn’t help that All-Star big man Nikola Jokic couldn’t find his touch against the zone at 4-of-13 from the field even when he was still facilitating and battling for boards. Denver needed someone else to fill the offensive void, and Murray infused some energy into the crowd with an alley-oop pass to Grant and a monster slam over DJ Wilson that didn’t count because of an offensive foul.
He sent a message by shaking free of Matthews off the bounce and drilling a step-back three and initiated much of the offense in the final quarter. That, along with the early showings from Millsap and Grant, was enough to hold off a clearly overmatched Milwaukee side.
Denver is going to face far more talented teams than the version of the Bucks on display Monday, and its performance was uninspiring for stretches. Fortunately for the home team, it can at least take solace knowing the supporting cast alongside Jokic is capable of winning games when he struggles with his shot.
The Nuggets are at the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, and the Bucks host the Boston Celtics on Thursday.