The Milwaukee Bucks reeled off their fifth straight win, beating the Denver Nuggets 125-112 on Monday night in the Mile High City.
While the Bucks are riding a hot streak, the Nuggets are heading in the opposite direction. Denver has dropped four of its last five games, including a loss to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday despite a 50-point effort from Nikola Jokic.
The two teams set a blistering pace in the first quarter, combining to score 79 points. Things leveled off a bit in the second frame before Milwaukee put 34 points on the board in the third quarter, going on a 15-0 run over a little more than four minutes.
While the contest never got out of hand, Milwaukee remained in control the rest of the way. Every time Denver knocked on the door, the Bucks had an answer.
An alley-oop from Khris Middleton to Giannis Antetokounmpo with 1:39 remaining put an exclamation point on the victory.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Bucks: 30 points (11-23 FG), nine rebounds, three blocks
Khris Middleton, SF, Bucks: 29 points (9-16 FG), 12 assists, eight rebounds, three steals
Nikola Jokic, C, Nuggets: 35 points (13-26 FG), 12 rebounds, six assists
Jamal Murray, PG, Nuggets: 11 points (4-17 FG), four assists, three rebounds, one steal
Offensive Balance Overwhelms Denver
The Bucks announced shortly before tipoff Jrue Holiday would be absent due to the NBA's health and safety protocols. Not only did that remove one of Milwaukee's best perimeter defenders from the lineup, but it also forced the backcourt to make up for Holiday's 16.4 points per game.
Bryn Forbes and Donte DiVincenzo picked up the slack.
Couple that with typical outings from Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, and it was a winning recipe for Milwaukee. Middleton was uncharacteristically poor from the perimeter, missing all five of his three-pointers, but made up for it by shooting a perfect 11-of-11 from the charity stripe.
Giannis and Middleton combined to form a deadly partnership in the pick-and-roll.
All five of Milwaukee's starters scored in double figures, and the second unit poured in 25 points. While the Nuggets weren't having many problems scoring themselves, it's tough to overcome the kind of all-around offensive output the Bucks enjoyed.
Murray Unable to Capitalize on Holiday Injury
Nobody stood to benefit more from Holiday's absence than Jamal Murray. Instead of having a two-time All-Defensive guard shadowing him, Murray was matched up against Forbes and DiVincenzo.
However, the Nuggets star didn't have his shooting stroke in his return after he missed Saturday's loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Will Barton caught fire in the first half and had 20 points to provide the spark missing from Murray. As Barton went anonymous in the second half, Denver was coincidentally unable to keep pace with Milwaukee.
Jokic did what he could to compensate. Through his scoring and playmaking, the Serbian big man kept Denver in the game.
The Nuggets' run to last season's Western Conference Finals raised expectations for 2020-21. Murray's underwhelming night is emblematic of how the magic the squad enjoyed inside the bubble hasn't carried over.
Denver is far too reliant on Jokic, who can only carry the team so far on his own if Murray is unable to provide more.
The Nuggets host the Cleveland Cavaliers at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, while the Bucks continue their six-game road trip against the Phoenix Suns at 10 p.m. ET.