February 27, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Doc Rivers is 'very happy' after Bucks debut despite loss to Nuggets

Doc Rivers is 'very happy' after Bucks debut despite loss to Nuggets

DENVER – Although they succeeded in maintaining their lead against the defending champions, the Milwaukee Bucks fell short in Doc Rivers' coaching debut with the team, falling to the Nuggets 113-107 on Monday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the best scorer for the Bucks with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists, and Brook Lopez added 19 points, making five of his nine three-point attempts. Damian Lillard (18 points, five assists) and Khris Middleton (14 points, eight rebounds) were the top scorers for the Bucks, but it was not enough as the Bucks struggled offensively against the Nuggets.

“Our defense in the half court was excellent,” Rivers said. “We battled tonight. I thought tonight was a loss offensively. I didn't think we were fragile offensively. We did stretches where the ball was buzzing and bouncing, and then we did stretches where it wasn't. And those stretches we've got to clean up. But overall “I was very happy.”

Monday's loss marked a radical departure from the way the Bucks played under Adrian Griffin for the first 43 games before the Bucks fired the coach for the first time last week. Under Griffin, the team's offense was impressive (2nd in offensive rating) while the defense struggled, falling to 22nd in defensive rating by the time Griffin was fired.

For Rivers, the team's defensive performance against a top-10 offense sent a clear message to the new coach.

“I told our guys that anyone who told you you can't play defense is lying,” Rivers said. “I proved it tonight. I competed tonight.”

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In the opinion of the two-time Bucks MVP, this should be the norm in this new era of Bucks basketball.

“There will be times when you lose games, but in order to win at a high level, there has to be a standard,” Antetokounmpo said. “And today, I think we set the bar as a team. … We can definitely defend, and moving forward, there's no excuse not to defend.

It wasn't ideal for the Bucks defensively. Nikola Jokic posted a triple-double with 25 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists, and teammate Jamal Murray added 35 points and five assists, but the Bucks felt as if they made Jokic and the Nuggets work hard offensively. To get 25 points, Jokic needed 25 shots, and while Murray had a great night, the Bucks were able to limit the rest of the roster.

At the other end of the floor, things looked like a work in progress. Before the game, Rivers spoke about his hope of seeing the Bucks duo of Antetokounmpo and Lillard improve under his leadership and guidance.

“It was effective, but it should be dominant in my opinion,” Rivers said of the one-on-one matchup between Antetokounmpo and Lillard. “We did a lot of two-man work today. You probably won't see a lot of that tonight, but it was clear, I think the whole team got what we did after 20 minutes of doing the same thing. It's important for us. Then the three-man game with Khris. “Throwing Chris in there too. That's important too.”

While the Bucks have been excellent in close games all season, posting the fourth-best net rating in the NBA in clutch situations, it was tough for them on Monday as they were held scoreless for two minutes early in the clutch. After Lopez hit a deep three-pointer to cut the Nuggets' lead to one goal, 98-97, the Bucks committed turnovers on consecutive possessions and then missed a 3-pointer, allowing the Nuggets to go on an 8-0 run. The Bucks never recovered.

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After the game, Rivers explained how difficult it was to put his players in the right spots offensively and find the right synergy between their core players.

“I'm happy with where we're going,” Rivers said. “I knew for a while it was going to be tough, especially the offensive calls. I had to turn to Joe (Prunty) and DJ (Packer) a lot because me and (Dave Guerger), we would be like, 'What's this play that Bobby's making…' “It will take a minute.”

“I mean I've watched our attack 50 times over the last two days, and yet it takes time to have the right rhythm to make the right decisions. We scored a lot of ATOs (after the timeout). Those were my things, but I prefer to avoid what We run it because they know the second and third of these.

Throughout the process, Rivers has been frank in assessing the situation and telling his new team that it will be difficult to join a team in the middle of the season and install new options on both ends of the court.

Before the game, Rivers admitted that while his coaching staff will be a big part of the process of catching up to the Bucks' already established terminology, players can also help him and inform him of their calls and actions as they work through building a team. A new identity on the fly.

“You don't normally see that, but we're a veteran team and, fortunately, that can help him along the way with the things we run and the things we like to run at certain times during the game,” Middleton said. “And it's going to adapt to that and give us some new things and some other things to think about and play with, so I'm excited about that process, really.”

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That process will need to continue at pace as the Bucks return to action on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers as the team's five-game, 10-day trip to the Pacific Northwest continues in Lillard's first game in Portland following the trade that sent him to Milwaukee in October.

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(Photo: Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)