Bucks' comeback win over Nuggets after terrible first half marks crucial step in quest to join NBA elite

MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton is in the midst of the best season of his career, especially from behind the 3-point line, where he's knocking down over 44 percent of his seven attempts per game. But on Monday night against the Nuggets, he couldn't buy a triple.

Zero for seven from beyond the arc with less than a minute to play, he was at risk of submitting his first game of the season without a 3. And it didn't look like that was going to change when he bobbled a pass from Giannis Antetokounmpo with just over 30 seconds to play and the Bucks clinging to a two-point lead. By the time he regained control, Juancho Hernangomez was all over him at the top of the key, and the shot clock was winding down. So he took one dribble to his right, stepped back and launched a fadeaway 3-pointer.

Cash. Bucks win.

After a brutal shooting night, he hit not only the toughest look he had from 3, but also the most important.

It was a fitting way for the Bucks to seal their 104-98 victory over the Nuggets. Despite the fact that they didn't play well for a full 48 minutes, and things were not going their way for most of the night, they kept grinding and found a way to win a close game. And in the process gained some much-needed confidence moving forward -- particularly with their next game against another tough Western Conference opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers, on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, available on fuboTV through the NBA League Pass extension here).

"There's so many close games over the course of an 82 game season, and then you get to the playoffs," first-year Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said postgame. "It's certainly good to build confidence that guys are gonna make plays, guys are gonna execute and come through. I think there's a confidence you build over the course of the season, so the more of these we can get the better. I think we'll learn, I think there's some execution things we can get better with down the stretch. But like Khris Middleton doesn't have a great game, but he hits the huge shot there at the end. I just think those are confidence builders for your team, for Khris, for all of us. So certainly good to find a way to win a close game."

Once again starting out slow, the Bucks fell behind by as many as 17 points early in the second quarter. Their potent 3-point attack failed them for most of the night, as they went just 11-of-36 from deep -- they also missed nine free throws and turned the ball over 14 times. It was, safe to say, not a great performance from the Bucks.

What it was though, was the type of night that showed the Bucks are on their way towards separating themselves as not only a good team, but a great one. That's a phrase and distinction Giannis Antetokounmpo used earlier this season -- "we do not want to be a good team, we want to be a great team" -- and he felt Monday night's win was an indication they are on the right path.

"I feel like for this team today's game was growth," said Antetokounmpo, who finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and keyed the team's comeback with a 15-point third quarter. "We want to be a great team. So far we've played amazing, and we gotta keep improving and doing even better."

Of course the Bucks don't want to always put themselves in the position of having to come back from 17-point deficits. For much of the season though, they've been blowing teams out, with 10 of their 12 wins coming by double-figures. Those wins are easy. To grind out a tough win on a tough night, against another strong team, is a big step for a Bucks team trying to break through in the Eastern Conference.

"We just realize how good we are and how talented we are," Antetokounmpo said. "No matter the game is going on, we know we're gonna make shots, we know we're gonna get back in the game."

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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