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Golden Nuggets: How Giannis shredded Denver's defense without making a shot outside of 5 feet

Harrison Wind Avatar
November 20, 2018

Six nuggets for the number of times Denver turned the ball over in the third quarter of a 104-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

1. Denver had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo but then again, does anyone? Antetokounmpo, the leader in the clubhouse for Most Valuable Player, has captained the Bucks to the second-best record in the East so far this year. What he did to the Nuggets, he’s done time and time again so far this season.

Antetokounmpo finished with a game-high 29 points. All 13 of his made field goals came from within 5 feet. Antetokounmpo took target practice Monday night against Denver with his bullseye being the paint. He got to his spots and didn’t miss often. On the season, Antetkounmpo is shooting 74 percent from 5 feet and in. He went 13-16 from that range against Denver.

The craziest part about Antetokounmpo’s early-season MVP push is that he’s doing it without a three-point shot. He shot 0-6 from three and has hit on just 4 of his 38 three-point tries this year. His rhythm at the free-throw line is gone too. Antetkounmpo is shooting under 70 percent from the charity stripe this year. The best defensive approach on the 6-foot-11 swingman might be to play Hack-a-Giannis. Seriously.

Denver threw everyone it could at Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak plowed right through the chest of the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Paul Millsap.

He euro stepped right around Nikola Jokic.

He did both those things to Trey Lyles.

The few times he caught the Nuggets in a switch, he made Denver pay. The Nuggets have to come with a hard double here on the catch. There’s no way Giannis isn’t scoring when he gets this type of positioning, even if Murray give him a Kevin McHale style clothesline. 

Denver’s best matchup on Antetokounmpo happened to be Mason Plumlee, who had one of the Nuggets’ highlights of the evening when he blocked Giannis at the rim, gave him a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag, led the fastbreak going the other way and assisted on a Lyles three-point play.

2. Speaking of Plumlee, he led a Nuggets’ bench unit that was once again stellar. Plumlee finished with five points, five rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes. His two turnovers were rough, but it was a team-wide problem for Denver. More on that later. Plumlee was a team-high plus-10 Monday.

When was the last time Monte Morris played a poor game? I don’t think it’s happened this year. Morris was solid against Milwaukee chipping in 10 points on 5-9 shooting, three rebounds and four assists. He’s hit double-figure scoring in four of his last six games. After looking a bit hesitant on his three-point shot earlier this season, Morris is letting it fly from distance with confidence and shooting a healthy 37.8 percent from deep on 2.2 attempts per game. He’s playing like a 15-year veteran despite logging only 20-ish total minutes for Denver during his rookie year.

Malik Beasley was solid too, sparking a 13-2 Nuggets run in the second quarter with back-to-back threes. He was 4-7 from the field against Milwaukee with all seven attempts coming from three. He needs to keep knocking down open threes with that type of regularity to ensure minutes once Will Barton returns. On that last corner three, Beasley displayed some Game 6 Ray Allen-esque crafty footwork to stay behind the line.

Lyles also played well in spots Monday finishing with six points in 16 minutes. He was a plus-five off the bench.

3. Effort wasn’t an issue against the Bucks; Denver played hard enough to win. The Nuggets held the Bucks, the top offensive team in the league, to 42 percent shooting from the field in the first half and 4-16 from three. Limiting Milwaukee to 104 points is a good night for the Nuggets’ defense.

Check out the number of rotations Jokic makes on this defensive possession.

But third quarters are becoming an issue for Denver.

Two nights ago in New Orleans, Denver posted just 21 points in the third quarter on 7-24 shooting after scoring 67 in the first half. The Pelicans took a 98-88 lead into the fourth, and the Nuggets were forced to play catch up. They never did.

Against the Bucks, the Nuggets again struggled after halftime. Denver’s offense was popping over the first two quarters, and the Nuggets put 56 points on the league’s fifth-ranked defense and led by 10 points at the break. But in the third, Denver’s offense slowed to a halt. The Nuggets were outscored 32-21 in the third and committed six of their 17 turnovers in the quarter.

Denver’s 17 total turnovers led to 31 Milwaukee points. In winning time, it didn’t get much better. The Nuggets gave the ball away twice in the final five minutes of regulation.

The Nuggets are having trouble executing late in games. Turnovers are a big season why. In what NBA.com defines as “the clutch,” when there are less than five minutes remaining and the score is within five points, Denver has committed a league-high 21 turnovers. The Nuggets are turning the ball over roughly once every five possessions in the clutch.

4. Finally, the blow-bys, which has become a buzzword for Michael Malone when describing what his defense did wrong. After Denver showed some defensive fortitude on the game’s first couple of possessions, the Bucks started getting to the cup with ease.

First, it was Antetokounmpo. If you’re biting on a Giannis pump fake from three, you’re probably getting yammed on.

Then, it was Middleton’s turn. See ya Juancho.

Next up was Brook Lopez. Lopez hit 8 of 13 threes nine days ago in Denver. That’s where Jokic’s head was at here.

Eric Bledsoe had to get in on the fun too. On a side note, how good has Bledsoe been this year? He’s cooked Denver in both matchups this season. He’s a legitimate threat from distance once again and has tallied three steals both times the Nuggets and Bucks have faced off this year. Bledsoe finished with 23 points, hit 2 of 3 from distance, five rebounds and five assists. He shot 8-10 from the field.

Reminder: All of these took place in the first quarter. Milwaukee was just getting started.

5. Jamal Murray got his swagger back (for a half)

Over the first two quarters, Jamal Murray played like the confident and assertive player that he has been for most of his two-plus NBA seasons. He helped lead the bench unit on the aforementioned 12-2 second-quarter run, a role he’s thrived in so far this year. At the half, Murray’s line read 11 points on 5-10 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and only one turnover.

The second half wasn’t as kind to Murray, who turned the ball over four times in 17 second-half minutes.

Murray hasn’t played up to his standards since his 48-point game against Boston. Since his career night, Murray is shooting under 40 percent from the field and just 8-30 from three. Murray’s three-point shot should turn around. He shot the same percentage from distance through his first 16 games last season that he did this year and went on to convert on 37.8 percent from distance. But the turnovers? Murray will have to get a handle on those.

Murray has been running the show better in Denver’s last few matchups and his assist numbers reflect that notion. Murray has tallied at least five assists in six of his last seven games. He had nine against Milwaukee. His playmaking is there in spots too. It’s just not consistent.

It’s a weird time for the Murray-Harris-Jokic trio, which hasn’t had the same chemistry lately that it showed over the last two seasons. All three starters finished deep in the negatives Monday. Murray was a minus-eight in 36 minutes. Harris, who looks like he’s playing through a few minor bumps and bruises right now, scored 14 points on 6-16 shooting and was a minus-12. Jokic was a team-worst minus-16 in 33 minutes.

The three are putting up decent counting stats, but the flow just hasn’t been there.

6. Fiserv Forum looks like a winner.

The Bucks’ brand new stadium looks spectacular. If you had been to Milwaukee’s old arena, you knew the team needed an upgrade badly, and it looks like the Bucks definitely hit a home run with their new digs. I doubt Fiserv smells like cheese, as the BMO Harris Bradley Center did.

No really. It did.

Heated massage chairs on the Bucks’ bench? Check. A party deck on the third level? Check. Catchy alliteration in the arena name? Check.

The Bucks got their new arena finished in time to potentially host the NBA Finals in June. Job well done.


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