Denver Nuggets 109, Milwaukee Bucks 95: Three takeaways
The Nuggets got back to their defensive roots with a gritty 109-95 win over the undermanned Bucks at Pepsi Center Monday.
Jamal Murray helped Denver get back in the win column, leading his team with 21 points, six assists and five rebounds. Paul Millsap also had an effective performance, adding a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards on 53.3 percent shooting. Kyle Korver had a game-high 23 points for Milwaukee, who didn’t dress four key players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez.
"I thought the defense was pretty good. We know that a lot of their key players were out -- Khris Middleton, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] -- all those guys [but] it really wasn't about them. It was about our effort, our focus and 'were we willing to go out there and try to defend at a high level?' I thought we did that."
The Nuggets held the Bucks to 37.8 percent shooting on the night and 30 percent from behind the arc.
Here are the takeaways from the win:
Murray provides spark
Near the end of the third quarter, Jamal Murray aggressively dribbled into the lane and skied above the rim to posterize Bucks forward D.J. Wilson. Seconds later, to the angst of the Pepsi Center crowd, the play was controversially called back as an offensive foul. Although the bucket did not count, it appeared to energize Murray and his teammates as he went on to have a strong fourth quarter.
"It was an impressive dunk. I didn't see the foul [on the play]," Malone said. "It got the building lit; everyone was up...I would agree, Jamal's non-basket, was the most impactful play of the night."
Murray would pour in nine of his 21 points in the final 12 minutes, knocking down 4 of 7 from the field. As effective as the 23-year-old was scoring, he was also effective in facilitating plays. His pass to Nikola Jokić in the fourth quarter pushed the Nuggets’ lead to 10 with 1:30 remaining.
Power forward tandem shows out
This is likely what the Nuggets envisioned when they acquired Jerami Grant as a backup to their veteran starting power forward Millsap. Both men were at their best Monday, using their different skills to take advantage of the Bucks’ missing personnel in the frontcourt.
Millsap got hot early, hitting five of his first seven shots to score 13 points in the first quarter. The 35-year-old turned back the clock with a thunderous slam to finish his first-quarter flurry.
"They didn't want to guard him," Murray said. "They left him open for three over and over [again] and he took advantage."
Grant made Pepsi Center erupt after catching an alley-oop from Murray at what appeared to be the scoreboard to slam home a finish and put the Nuggets up by eight. The reserve forward finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Stealing the spotlight
The Nuggets matched their third-highest steals total of the season as they swiped the ball away 11 times against their opponents.
Some of their success could be attributed to Milwaukee trotting out a new starting five and playing a different rotation due to injury and load management. But there was no sympathy from the Nuggets who were assertive defensively against their opponents from the start. In the first quarter, the team grabbed three steals. They also held the Bucks, who played two strong three-point shooters in Kyle Korver and Ersan Ilyasova, to 29.4 percent shooting.
Will Barton led the Nuggets efforts in forcing turnovers with four steals to go along with his two blocks, 13 points and six boards. Denver was also impressive, stopping shots at the rim as it had eight blocks on the night.