Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver nuggets Community!

Nuggets Film Room: Inside Denver's crunch time stumble against Milwaukee

Harrison Wind Avatar
November 13, 2018

A spirited 21-6 run to open the fourth quarter captained by backup point guard Monte Morris had the Nuggets leading the Bucks by four points with 5:36 remaining in regulation after a Trey Lyles lay-in. Thanks to stellar play from its bench, Denver was in position to add a victory over Most Valuable Player candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and the now 10-3 Bucks to its impressive early-season resume of wins that includes Golden State, Utah and Boston.

But Denver would soon encounter an offensive power outage that could have blacked out all of LoDo. The Nuggets only scored five points over the game’s final five-plus minutes. They shot 2-8 in the last 5:30 against the Bucks, were outscored 16-5, committed four turnovers, three of which came in the final 1:50, and scored on just three of their final 13 possessions.

“Just a comedy of errors down the stretch,” Michael Malone said after the loss.

Here’s a detailed look at Denver’s final 13 possessions against Milwaukee and what went wrong for the Nuggets down the stretch.

Possession 1: Denver trails 109-105 with 5:05 remaining Trey Lyles slides into an open three-pointer and missed. Lyles was 2-5 from three against Milwaukee but has struggled from distance this season, hitting just 10 of his 44 attempts from beyond the arc.

Possession 2: Denver trails 109-105 with 4:43 remaining  Gary Harris comes off a screen from Nikola Jokic, an action he’s run hundreds of times over the last few seasons, and tries to get the ball back to Jokic but doesn’t see Bledsoe who’s shaded over towards Jokic. The turnover leads to a Bledsoe layup.

Possessions 3: Denver trails 109-107 with 4:22 remaining – Out of a timeout, Jamal Murray comes off a Jokic screen and gets into the lane, but Bledsoe is able to stay right on his hip. Murray is stuck. Paul Millsap is open in the corner, but Antetokounmpo and his 7-foot-3 wingspan wall off that portion of the court. Bledsoe initially bites on Murray’s pump fake but is able to still block his shot, runs the floor and is rewarded with a three-point play.

Possession 4: Denver trails 110-109 with 3:52 remaining – After coming off a Jokic screen, Murray can’t get the ball back to his big man, but the Nuggets’ stagnant offense gets bailed out by a foul called on Antetokounmpo. Eventually, Denver gets Harris going downhill with his right hand, and he’s able to get all the way into the paint and draw a foul. Harris goes 1-2 from the line.

Possession 5: Tied at 110 with 3:25 remaining: A timely block from Millsap gives the Nuggets a much-needed stop and eventually leads into one of the Nuggets’ better looks over the final five minutes: an open midrange jumper from Murray.

Possession 6: Denver leads 112-110 with 3:06 remaining – The Nuggets get a steal and swing the momentum in their direction, but an early clock corner three from Harris turns into an Antetokounmpo layup at the other end. Denver could have gotten a better look here.

Possession 7: Tied at 112 with 2:28 remaining – The Nuggets don’t get the ball below the foul line on this possession as Denver’s offense gradually dissipates and Millsap winds up with the ball in a late-clock situation. A step-back three is the only look that he’s able to create on Antetokounmpo as the rest of the Nuggets stand and watch.

Possession 8: Tied at 112 with 1:52 remaining – The Nuggets force Brook Lopez into a rare miss from distance (he hit 8 of 13 threes) and find Jokic on the block. Jokic is bodied by Lopez as Antetokounmpo eventually comes over to double. Jokic can’t find Murray wide open in the corner or Beasley on the wing and tries to dump it off to Millsap. His pass is picked off by Malcolm Brogdon, who drains an open three moments later.

Possession 9: Milwaukee leads 115-112 with 1:36 remaining – Out of a timeout, Murray again gets downhill and tries to get the ball to Jokic, but can’t create a good angle for the pass. Murray throws it away for Denver’s third turnover in its last nine possessions.

Possession 10: Milwaukee leads 115-112 with 1:08 remaining – After a Bucks miss, Murray is finally able to find Jokic on the short roll, who’s wide open at the elbow for an 18-footer. It’s a shot that’s typically money for Jokic. It misses off the front iron.

Possession 11: Milwaukee leads 117-112 with 32 seconds remaining – Out of a timeout, the Nuggets get Millsap isolated on the baseline against Antetokounmpo. It’s not an advantage matchup for Millsap, but he’s able to explode past Antetokounmpo and get to the rim for one of his best 1-on-1 moves of the season.

But on the Bucks’ ensuing possession with Denver trailing by three with under 30 seconds to go, Harris commits a foul in the backcourt. Malone would later say that Harris wasn’t supposed to foul and instead just play defense, get a stop and have the ball for one final possession. Down just three, the Nuggets would have had a chance to send the game to overtime.

Possession 12: Milwaukee leads 119-114 with 30.2 seconds remaining – Middleton, an 87 percent free-throw shooter, knocks down both shots from the charity stripe. On the inbounds, there’s a miscommunication as Beasley tries to lead Murray, who’s instead expecting a pass right to him. Bledsoe steals it. It was Denver’s fourth turnover in the final five minutes.

Possession 13: Milwaukee leads 121-114 with 5.0 seconds remaining – The game was already decided, but Beasley’s missed layup at the end of regulation encapsulated Denver’s final five minutes.

Late-game execution has been an issue for Denver throughout its current three-game losing streak, and in all three losses, the Nuggets have led by at least one point in the fourth quarter.

In its 89-87 loss to Memphis, Denver shot just 8-21 from the field in the fourth. The Nuggets recorded three turnovers in the final five minutes while the Grizzlies committed none. Defensive miscues and missed open looks ended up costing Denver in what would have been an impressive road victory.

Two nights later against the Nets, the Nuggets held a four-point lead with one minute to play. An unfavorable whistle combined with two straight blow-bys surrendered by Denver gave Caris LeVert a chance to win the game at the buzzer, which he did.

In the last five minutes of games where the margin is five points or less, or what NBA.com defines as “the clutch,” Denver has committed a league-high 19 turnovers in 41 minutes. Denver is turning the ball over roughly once every five possessions in the clutch. The Nuggets have the sixth-best Net Rating this season, but the ninth-worst in clutch situations.

The Nuggets will accept the occasional slip-up from Morris, Beasley, or Juancho Hernangomez, who don’t have a ton of high-leverage minutes under their belts. When the mistakes come from Murray, Harris or Jokic, who are all 25 years old or younger but have closed games for Denver for the last two seasons, it’s puzzling.

“When it involves guys who have played down the stretch last year, it is surprising,” said Malone.

Locked into a season-long battle for playoff positioning in a turbulent Western Conference, Denver’s late-game execution will be tested time and time again. In a conference where last season teams seeded three through nine were separated by three games, how well the Nuggets run their offense, contain their man on defense and most importantly take care of the ball could be the difference between Denver earning home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs—or not.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?