DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic spoiled the Milwaukee coaching debut of Doc Rivers by recording his 14th triple-double of the season as the Denver Nuggets surged by the Bucks 113-107 on Monday night.
Jokic finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists, while Jamal Murray added 35 points in helping Denver gain separation during an 8-0 run late in the game.
This game was a chance for Rivers to size up his built-to-win-now squad. Rivers was lured out of his role as an analyst to take over for first-year Bucks coach Adrian Griffin, who was fired after 43 games and a 30-13 record.
Embarking on his 25th season as an NBA head coach, Rivers alternated between arms folded, hands on the knees and hands on his hips in moving up and down the sideline. He kneeled at times, clapped, consulted with Joe Prunty, the interim coach before Rivers’ arrival, and even showed frustration over a foul called on Brook Lopez late in the game for a screen.
Rivers watched his new squad squander an early 13-point lead, fall behind by as many as nine and surge back before Aaron Gordon ended the comeback by blocking a Damian Lillard layup with 24.7 seconds remaining.
The loss kept Rivers on 1,097 wins and one away from tying Larry Brown for the eighth-most among coaches in NBA history.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 29 points and 12 rebounds for the Bucks, who began a five-game trip. The player nicknamed “Greek Freak” played nearly 37 minutes despite dealing with an illness that had his availability up in the air leading into the game. Had he missed the contest, it would’ve been the second straight game where an MVP player didn’t play at Ball Arena. On Saturday, reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid was a late scratch for Philly because of a balky left knee.
But Antetokounmpo treated the capacity crowd to a high-flying exhibition (and called for a 10-second violation on a free throw that electrified the crowd). He was named the NBA player of the week for the East earlier in the day.
Lopez had 19 points, including five of Milwaukee’s 16 3-pointers. Lillard finished with 18 points.
Rivers conceded it will take a minute to settle in on the bench as he steadily meshes his style with the way the Bucks already play. He wants them flowing along and not overthinking.
One thing he doesn’t have to remind them of — just how good they are. The Bucks feature several holdovers, led by Antetokounmpo, from the team that won the NBA championship in 2020-21.
“They already know what the goal is,” Rivers said. “And they all know that the only way you reach that goal is it has to be ‘We’ — as a group.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he felt bad for Griffin and his short tenure coaching Milwaukee — “if you’re looking for security, don’t become a coach,” Malone lamented — but added that Rivers would have the Bucks running on all cylinders in no time.
“No disrespect to his commentating ability, but it’s good to see him back on the sideline doing what he’s very, very effective at,” said Malone, who picked up his 400th win as coach of the Nuggets on Monday.