Basketball fans on the Fiserv Forum didn’t get the MVP-twice vs. Twice-MVP battle they were hoping for on Wednesday night.
That’s because Nuggets star Nikola Jokic got a scratch after playing in a win over the Pelicans in New Orleans on Tuesday. He missed both Denver games prior to that with a tight hamstring, and was suspended against the Bucks with the same issue.
square score: 107 bucks, 99 nuggets
Pax was the MVP of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who contributed 33 points and 14 rebounds in the 107-99 victory. Milwaukee improved to 31-17, while Denver fell to 34-15.
The Nuggets also sat out three starters: Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Kentavious Caldwell Pope.
The Bucks were playing without Sixth Man of the Year candidate Bobby Portis, who will miss some time with a sprained knee.
“We’re playing against the best,” Bucks guard Gro Holiday said. “But they’re still an NBA team. Everyone on their roster is here for a reason.”
“We know that, so we have to approach the game the same way.”
Khris Middleton returns to Fiserv Forum
Bucks guard Chris Middleton hasn’t played in front of home fans since their December 13 victory over the Golden State Warriors. He returned from a knee injury Monday in a road game for the Detroit Pistons.
Middleton scored 10 points in the first half and was the fulcrum of a key 8-0 series lead in the second quarter. He threw a three-pointer, then found Pat Connaughton in the corner for a three-pointer that gave the Bucks a 53-50 lead.
“I thought that was a really nice stretch for him,” Bucks coach Mike Bodenholzer said of Middleton. I thought plays on both ends and finding a computer for that third corner, we needed that. It was kind of a mud fest tonight. Slugfest.
“He’s had a few of those, just where you see those glimpses every game he’s played. Defensively I thought he accepted the challenge and the opportunities to push himself out there and do well.”
Middleton did not score in the second half and played the full 15 minutes.
“I think it looks good,” said Holiday, who scored 20 points. “It’s all about rhythm and timing. He’s able to do what he can quickly. I know he has a certain amount of minutes he can play.”
Pat Connaughton thrives in a larger role
Middleton came off the bench for the second consecutive match, with Pat Connaughton remaining in the starting lineup.
Without Portis delivering a scoring punch off the bench, Connaughton was also relied upon to take a bigger role in attack.
Even the 6-foot-5 Connaughton saw a few minutes in Portis’ role as a power forward. Connaughton put up 19 points and 12 rebounds in 38 minutes.
“It’s just about business,” Connaughton said. “To be able to get back into the swing of things. It’s been two months now (since coming back from a calf injury).”
“Getting into a rhythm on rest days. Getting back to the gym. Getting back to work. Doing the things I’ve done over the years to make sure I feel comfortable when I’m out shooting the basketball in a multitude of situations.”
Antetokounmpo liked what Konnaughton brought against the Nuggets.
“It was definitely more aggressive,” said Antetokounmo. “He was really good tonight. Every night, always solid for the team. Makes the right play. Grounds us. Capable of picking up and shooting. Gives us extra possessions. Always my voice.”
Antitokonmo shoots 22 free throws – 21 in the second half
Antetokounmpo took a lot of strong contact from the Nuggets, attempting 21 of his 22 free throws in the second half.
It’s the most trips to the free throw line in a half by an NBA player this season.
“Just try to get a rhythm,” Antetokunmo said. “Try to be as aggressive as I can be. Get down. Play to my strengths.”
Holiday loves Antetokounmp’s ability to remain unaffected by all the physical punishment.
“Going to the free throw line and dropping it, that’s great,” Holiday said. Because it takes a lot out of you.
“Just to be able to get hit, fall to the ground. You have big guys like Aaron Gordon and DaAndre Jordan falling on top of you.”
9 Turnovers in the first quarter of USD, including five by Antetokounmpo
11 The consecutive points scored by the Super Nuggets Super Bones Highland in the second quarter
6 He hit back-to-back kicks to start the game for Connaughton, including 5 3-pointers, before missing out early in the fourth quarter.
4 Brook Lopez blocks for center bucks in 30 minutes
6 Fouls in 11 minutes off the bench in favor of DeAndre Jordan of the Nuggets
The game’s video is Giannis Antikonmo’s Khris Middleton Alley
It was nice for Bucks fans on the Fiserv forum to see that old teammates Middleton and Antetokounmpo hadn’t lost their telepathic connection.
Near the end of the third quarter, Antetokounmpo sprinted past Nuggets guard Ish Smith and hit Middleton Antetokounmpo with a just-right alley pass from the free throw line for a dunk.
Playing the game is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s great layup in the fourth quarter
Antetokounmpo took a lot of solid contact on Wednesday. But he summoned enough energy to drive the lane and finish with a late reverse kick to pull away from the Nuggets late in the fourth quarter.
Who does Pax play next?
Milwaukee makes a quick trip to Indiana to take on the Pacers on Friday. The Bucks pulled away 132-119 over Indiana on January 16 at Fiserv Forum. Milwaukee dropped a season-high 39 points in the fourth quarter. Jrue Holiday finished with 35 points.