Feb 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone talks with referee Bill Kennedy (55) during the second half at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 121-117. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
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The Milwaukee Bucks failed to break out of their losing ways against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, but showed the kind of effort and energy that had been painfully missing of late.
This was another loss at a time when the Milwaukee Bucks desperately needed a win to keep their season alive, but there was something a little different about the team’s demeanor and performance on this occasion.
For a change, it wasn’t the opposition’s corner threes or Milwaukee’s defensive lapses that the blame for this loss could be solely pinned on. Make no mistake, there were still instances of both, but on the whole this was a much more focused and attentive effort.
Ultimately as a margin of only four points denied them a shot at victory, the Bucks will be left to rue a disastrous second quarter which saw them take poor shots on offense and give up too many easy looks defensively.
Outside of that quarter the Bucks held a 13-point advantage, which should act as yet another reminder for this young team that if they want to win with regularity in this league, they’ll need to remain consistent for all four quarters.
On the positive side of the board, Jabari Parker looked much better than he has in many of Milwaukee’s recent struggles. Parker willed the Bucks along throughout much of the second half to get them back within striking range and keep them there.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was as active as ever, but also in something of a return to form for the Greek, he boasted much improved efficiency with his 23 points coming on 9-13 shooting from the field.
John Henson put in a notable performance in his own return to the starting lineup, while Thon Maker continued to impress, even if foul trouble limited his time on the floor.
Confronted by a first career triple-double triple-double from Nuggets star big man Nikola Jokic, who also played his part in a dominant rebounding showing for his team, even in a better run of form than they’ve recently found themselves in there could be no guarantee that the Bucks would have prevailed at Denver’s high altitude.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the most prominent takeaways from the action, though.
Feb 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic (15) looks to pass the ball against Milwaukee Bucks center John Henson (31) during the second half at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 121-117. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
One of the most troubling aspects of recent Bucks woes has been the way in which Milwaukee’s youngsters have applied themselves in searching for a solution.
With confidence likely lower than it has been at any previous point of some of the young Bucks’ careers, stooped heads and sour expressions have become a feature of recent games. Prior to Milwaukee’s win against the Rockets, the team’s only victory in their last 11 games, Jason Kidd called for his team to return to enjoying playing basketball.
There were signs of the fun returning on Friday, as the Bucks came out with energy early on and maintained it throughout the first period in spite of the challenges that the thin Denver air can famously have on opponents.
Jason Terry provided a great example of this, as the 39-year-old applied himself with savvy defense throughout the night, but also knocked down a couple of triples in the first quarter after some diligent running around screens.
Even when the game turned against the Bucks in the second quarter, it was encouraging to see them rally back in the second half. As the team began to cut into the lead there were smiles on the faces of all in green on the court and animated encouragement from teammates on the sidelines.
Of course there’s cause to be disappointed that this didn’t prove to be the night where the Bucks snapped out of their rut, but if they want that to change any time soon it’s this kind of attitude they need to carry forward with them.
The time for feeling sorry for themselves has long passed.
Feb 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic (15) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks center John Henson (31) during the second half at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 121-117. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Second Best On The Glass
Although all focus has been on the Bucks’ problems in defending the three-pointer of late, there are plenty of other vulnerabilities that opposing teams can exploit. One of those was clear for all to see on Friday in the Pepsi Center.
Ranked 26th in the NBA in rebounding, the Bucks simply had no answers for the Nuggets on the glass. Denver boast the NBA’s second-best rebounding numbers, and they made that advantage pay in what was a very close game in most other departments.
As one leg of Jokic’s triple-double, the Serbian big man grabbed 13 rebounds. Kenneth Faried has been a constant fixture of trade rumors in Denver in recent years, but the Manimal showed up with 11 big rebounds of his own in this game too.
It wasn’t just the overall rebounding differential (+10 in Denver’s favor) that hurt the Bucks, as more specifically the Bucks just couldn’t box out that duo of Jokic and Faried. Denver feasted on second chance opportunities thanks to six offensive boards each for Jokic and Faried.
On the other end, the Bucks just managed six offensive rebounds in total.
Feb 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Jabari And Giannis Showing Signs Of Life
For the first time since the Bucks picked up their most recent win against the Rockets, Giannis and Jabari both managed to score over 20 points each on Friday.
Perhaps even more important considering some of the rumblings and speculation that has fueled fans since word of that now infamous team meeting emerged, the pair combined nicely on a couple of important second half scores, before going out of their way to acknowledge each other.
Jabari was the more assertive of the two, providing a big 27 points that allowed the Bucks to at least have a chance of stealing a win down the stretch. Although Parker will be disappointed with his 2-7 shooting from deep, his 10-20 from the field overall is nothing to be ashamed of.
Giannis will be particularly disappointed to have counteracted his five assists with the same number of turnovers, but he also has a legitimate gripe at some of the calls that didn’t go his way down the stretch. A particularly egregious non-call on a drive to the basket was even enough to earn Jason Kidd a technical foul for complaining.
A combined 50 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists from Milwaukee’s young stars ensured this wasn’t another one of the blowouts that have plagued the team recently, but they’ll need to combine for more performances of this ilk to turn the season around.
Feb 1, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker (7) shoots the ball against Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 104-88. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Thon Gets Pumped Up
There would have been many disappointed Bucks fans when they heard the news of yet another lineup change at the center spot. Even in some of the horrid outings of late, the play of Thon Maker has represented some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
There may have been even more unrest at halftime, when in spite of the coach’s assurances that his rookie big man would continue to get minutes, he had yet to check into the game.
Kidd said Maker still will play off bench. "He's a rookie. His energy has been very high."
After a particularly lackluster second quarter, Maker did emerge to start the second half and again he brought the kind of energy that it’s become clear he can be consistently relied upon for.
Unsurprisingly, Maker struggled when it came to containing the considerably stronger Nikola Jokic, but he still managed to influence the game with a tipped pass and a strip of a Nuggets wing just under the basket.
Offensively, Thon continued to prove he’s a deadeye from distance. Maker knocked down his only field goal attempts, both coming from three-point range, meaning he’s now been successful on 11-18 triple attempts on the season.
In total, the 19-year-old would only play four minutes before he had to be subbed out of the game, due to three fouls picked up in that time. Maker is proving his defensive instincts and shooting merit minutes on the court, he just needs to cut down on the foul count to make that possible.
Aside from any of his more tangible contributions, Maker set the tone for his team again with his attitude and energy. He played with an intensity and determination, with a steely look that was accompanied by more animated reactions than we’ve seen to date from him. Even on the bench he was the first to rise to his feet and encourage those around him, and at present, the Bucks need as much as that as they can get.