Denver Nuggets 127, Milwaukee Bucks 115: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

There is no I in team (apologies for the cheesy cliche). That was certainly the case for the Denver Nuggets on Friday, who withstood an early scoring punch from the Milwaukee Bucks in a 127-115 road victory. The win marked Denver’s second in a 24-hour span following a win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday. Hot shooting from deep and plenty of fight on the defensive end fueled Friday’s victory.

"I'm so proud of our guys," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "Our guys have a tremendous belief. After that early onslaught, I thought our poise and resolve was remarkable. The defense in quarters two, three and four was great."

It was all offense to begin the game. Milwaukee capitalized on the rest advantage early and flew out of the gates to begin the game. The Bucks opened up a 16-4 lead on the back of 7-of-9 shooting from the field and physical defense. However, the Nuggets were able to use the 3-pointer to get back in the game, as Will Barton III and Torrey Craig combined for four-consecutive threes during the middle stages of the quarter. The two teams combined for 14 3-pointers in the first frame, but Milwaukee was able to take a 43-35 lead after one.

"We're dogs," Malik Beasley said. "If we get hit, we're going to get back up. Everybody stepped up today and did what they needed to do."

The Nuggets continued to shoot well and push the pace in transition and cut Milwaukee’s lead down to just four points with nine minutes remaining in the half. Juancho Hernangomez provided a much-needed spark for Denver with 10 points and four rebounds during the opening stretch of the second quarter. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, the Bucks were able to regain momentum when both teams returned to their starters down the stretch of the quarter. Milwaukee ultimately took a 67-60 lead into the halftime break. Denver connected on 11 3-pointers in the half and racked up 18 assists.

The Nuggets continued to chip away at the deficit to open the second half as a 9-2 run tied the game for the first time. Denver’s tenacity and effort was rewarded with an 88-82 lead late in the third quarter, which marked the Nuggets’ first lead of the night. Once again, it was Denver’s second unit that led the charge. A 3-pointer from Barton III near the end of the third quarter pushed the Nuggets’ lead to 100-91 heading into the final frame. Denver held Milwaukee to just 24 points for the second-straight quarter, while the Nuggets scored 40 points in the third.

The Nuggets were able to maintain their lead in the opening minutes of the fourth, but their momentum stalled when Michael Porter Jr. had to leave the game with an injury. After the Bucks cut their lead down to five points, the Nuggets responded with a 10-2 to take a 13-point lead with just over six minutes remaining. Of course, Milwaukee wasn’t going to go down quietly, as the Bucks used a 9-2 run during the middle stages of the quarter to get within six.

Back-to-back 3-pointers from Barton III and Beasley pushed Denver’s lead back to 123-111 with just under three minutes remaining. The Nuggets comfortably closed out the final minutes to secure the statement win.

"Whenever they (the Bucks) made a run, Will came down and made a big play," Malone added. "Will is a hooper. He's had a phenomenal year for us and he does it in every way with scoring, rebounding, playmaking and on defense."

Here are three takeaways from Denver’s win:

The second unit stepped up again

On the second night of a back-to-back without four rotation players, the Nuggets knew they would need others to step up if they wanted to have a chance at pulling off an upset in Milwaukee. Well, that’s exactly what happened on Friday, as Denver’s second-unit routinely pushed the pace, knocked down shots and hustled defensively to make up for a lack of traditional size around the basket.

"What I loved is how excited our guys are for each other," Malone said. "Everybody is just happy for the next guy, which speaks to the selfless culture we've worked to create."

Hernangomez (12 points, five rebounds), Porter Jr. (15 points, 11 rebounds), Beasley (16 points, 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc) and P.J. Dozier (10 points, four assists) were the four players off the bench and all were +6 or better on the night. The performance couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nuggets, who swept their most difficult back-to-back of the season.

Denver let it fly early and often

They say you live or die by the three. Well on Friday, the Nuggets were living comfortably with a 22-of-46 performance from downtown. The 22 3-pointers mark the most Denver has made in a game this season. Despite going up against one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the league in Milwaukee, the Nuggets won the battle from beyond the arc, which helped fuel their impressive scoring outburst and continued a trend of impressive shooting away from Pepsi Center.

For the second time this week, the Nuggets attempted over 40 3-pointers, which more accurately reflects on what Malone desired before the season started when he professed his vision for more 3-pointers at Media Day.

"We knew going in that they were last in the NBA in threes allowed and threes made," Malone said. "Every time the ball was in the paint they collapsed, that's why they're the best paint defense in the NBA. It was great to see guys step in and shoot with confidence. Hopefully that can continue moving forward."

Grant showcased his versatility

Jerami Grant stepping up in an increased role is nothing new for the Nuggets, as the 25-year-old forward has done that for several weeks while Paul Millsap recovers from his knee injury. However, Grant’s unique versatility was on full display on Friday, as he finished with 10 points, four rebounds and two assists.

What’s even more impressive is Grant’s defensive contributions. The former second-round pick finished with seven blocks and two steals, while he was often tasked with defending the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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