Nuggets throttle defending champion Bucks, stretch winning streak to five

MILWAUKEE – Maybe the “overrated” chants were a bit impulsive.

As the Bucks faithful rained down their affectionate chants at the visiting team, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets wrenched their lead to 25 points and didn’t relent.

Denver throttled the defending champion Bucks on Sunday night, 136-100, to stretch their winning streak to five. Now winners in 10 of its last 13, it was as dominant – and significant – a win as the Nuggets have authored all season.

“Team win,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone beamed from the postgame press conference. “The ball movement was just fantastic.”

Asked specifically about the season-high 39 assists, Malone said: “It’s just our identity, who we are.”

Jokic amassed 18 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds, missing his 13th triple-double of the season only because of the glaring margin. The reigning MVP, whose case for a second one is growing, didn’t play the fourth quarter.

His primary competition, Giannis Antetokounmpo, finished the night with 29 points on 9-of-19 shooting, with nine rebounds. No other Bucks player scored more than 14.

“I think all international players have some kind of connection,” Jokic said of his relationship with Antetokounmpo. “… Do I want to do what he did, to Denver? Yes, I want to do it, of course.”

Aaron Gordon tallied 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including four 3-pointers. The Nuggets cooked the nets with 23 makes from beyond the arc, tying their season-high. Monte Morris had four of them, and rookie Bones Hyland drained three.

As a unit, the Nuggets’ reserves poured in 59 points in the rout. Having seemingly found some cohesion within both units, the Nuggets will surge into Minnesota for another game on Tuesday.

The Nuggets played a beautiful brand of basketball to open the second half, passing and cutting and slicing Milwaukee’s defense to pieces. One show-time pass from Will Barton gifted Gordon an unimpeded dunk, while Jokic continued serving up his teammates quality shots. Many went to Gordon, whose 11 third-quarter points helped stretch the lead to 22 at one point.

If it wasn’t Gordon’s best shooting display as a Nugget, it was close. Many of his baskets came from well outside the paint, which is generally his comfort zone. Even Jokic added to the parade with a highlight-worthy reverse layup. The Nuggets’ offense continued to sizzle from outside, paving the path to a 103-81 lead entering the fourth.

Malone sung Hyland’s praises for his total effort in Friday’s win over New Orleans.

“What I liked about his play in that second half, it started with one, his pace,” Malone said. “I think Bones has tremendous quickness. … He can get up and down the floor in a hurry. He got us organized, he got us into offense. And he ran his team. Two years at VCU, his freshman year, he was a point guard. … I just liked the confidence, the pace, his organization of that team and him just being aggressive.”

Hyland made good on Malone’s approval. He steered the Nuggets’ second unit for 23 first-half points as Denver carried a 65-57 lead into halftime.

Hyland’s speed was an X-factor. His shiftiness helped collapse the defense, while his distance shooting stretched them apart.

Jokic was dominant as well. While the Bucks opted to defend him with guards, usually Jrue Holiday or Wes Matthews, Denver’s shooters were proficient enough to avoid sending double-teams. The Nuggets buried 11 3-pointers in the first half and tallied 19 assists to scramble Milwaukee’s defense. Jokic had nine of the helpers in the first half.

Gordon, Morris and Hyland buried three 3-pointers each in a devastating display of marksmanship over the first two quarters.

As Malone predicted, Antetokounmpo was overwhelming. His pummeled the Nuggets in the paint for 22 first-half points, pacing Milwaukee’s inside-out attack.

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