Denver Nuggets 109, Milwaukee Bucks 120: Three Takeaways

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A familiar story played out for the Denver Nuggets Friday night, as a shorthanded Mile High squad put up a fight against the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks, but a lack of firepower led to a 120-109 loss for Denver. Without Nikola Jokić for the fourth-straight game, the Nuggets losing streak extended to six games.

Milwaukee quickly got out to a 12-4 start, using hot shooting (5-of-6 from the field) to prompt an early timeout from Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. Things didn’t get any better for Denver during the remainder of the quarter, as the Bucks continued to control the game on both ends of the floor. After opening up a 16-point lead midway through the quarter, Milwaukee ultimately took a 27-16 lead into the second quarter.

Facundo Campazzo (11 points) and Vlatko Čančar (6 points) provided a spark offensively off the bench as Denver cut Milwaukee’s 17-point lead down to five points with just under four minutes remaining in the first half. The Bucks responded to push the lead back to double digits at halftime (58-47), as three players scored in double-figures for Milwaukee in the first 24 minutes.

Denver continued to fire away from deep to open the second half, and two 3-pointers from Monte Morris and Will Barton helped the Nuggets get within five early in the third quarter. However, the Bucks weathered the storm as Giannis Antetokounmpo continued to slowly make his mark on Friday’s contest (the two-time MVP would finish with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists). Milwaukee secured a 90-73 lead heading into the fourth and final quarter.

An 8-3 run to open the final frame from Denver cut Milwaukee’s lead down to 12 points with just under 10 minutes remaining, but the Bucks quickly responded with a 7-2 run of their own to regain a 17-point advantage. Although the Nuggets briefly cut the deficit back down to 13 points, as was the case throughout the night, Milwaukee quickly recovered momentum, and the lead sat at 105-87 with five minutes remaining. Both teams went to their bench reserves for the final minutes of the game.

Here are three takeaways from Friday’s loss.

Next man up mentality

Without Nikola Jokić, Michael Porter Jr., and Bones Hyland Friday night (not to mention Jamal Murray), Denver was going to need other players to step up to have any chance against the reigning champions.

It was an offense by committee for the Nuggets against Milwaukee, with five players finishing in double-figures, led by Aaron Gordon with 18 points. It’s impossible for one, or even two players to make up for the missed production from Jokić (let alone the additional production missed from Porter Jr. and Hyland), but together the Nuggets put forward a competitive effort Friday night.

A struggle to get stops

Throughout the opening weeks of the season, Denver won games using lockdown defense. However, the Nuggets struggled against a dominant Bucks offense Friday night, as Milwaukee was always able to respond to Denver’s mini runs to maintain a significant lead throughout the contest.

In the end, the Bucks shot 63 percent from the field, 48.5 percent from beyond the arc, and won the battle in the paint 48-40. One area Denver did have success defensively was in forcing turnovers, as Milwaukee committed 22 turnovers on the night, which directly led to 24 points for the Nuggets.

Campazzo continues strong run

One compelling development for the Nuggets over the past week has been the play of Campazzo. After receiving limited minutes earlier in the season, Campazzo has played over 25 minutes in each of the past four games, including Friday night.

One key in the Argentinian guard receiving more playing time has been his hot 3-point shooting. Heading into Friday’s contest, Campazzo had hit 39.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, a rate he nearly replicated against the Bucks (3-of-8 from downtown).

Campazzo ultimately finished with 16 points and two assists in Friday’s loss, continuing a strong run for the second-year guard.

Denver is back in action Monday night against the Miami Heat (5:30 p.m. MT).