Giannis, Khris Middleton Lead Bucks Past Nuggets Despite Jokic's 35 Points

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2021

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, moves to the rim as Denver Nuggets forward JaMychal Green defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

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.

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

DAGGER. https://t.co/FQhQImIga3


Notable Performers

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.

FOX Sports Wisconsin @fswisconsin

1. Grab the rebound. 2. Dribble it up. 3. Drain a triple. Easy enough for @Divincenzo! https://t.co/LhMf5c064u

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Starter Bryn is a flamethrower. https://t.co/DJjXenKn17

FOX Sports Wisconsin @fswisconsin

Donte is on one tonight. 😲 #FearTheDeer https://t.co/zvVXw3F3Bn

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.

Ben Dowsett @Ben_Dowsett

Middleton-Giannis PNR has been unstoppable all year. I'd be running it 20x a game

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

All-Star connection. Khris finds Giannis for the easy alley-oop!! https://t.co/BEDUhov8qo

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.

Vic Lombardiᴰʳ @VicLombardi

One thing I've noticed about Jamal Murray of late, he's fading away on almost every shot. Everything inside the arc results in a fade away.

Eric Nehm @eric_nehm

Torrey Craig is 3-for-3 from deep and taking the primary defensive responsibility for Jamal Murray. Good one for him against his former team.

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.

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

When you need a bucket, call on the MVP. https://t.co/6F9SelOICA

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

We'll say it again... THE. BEST. PASSING. BIG. MAN. EVER. https://t.co/2hUH8m5foK

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.


What's Next?

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.