Doc Rivers took to the sideline for the first time as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, but his debut was spoiled by the Denver Nuggets, as Milwaukee fell to 113-107 defeat against the defending champion.
As first reported by CNN Sport, Rivers agreed to a deal with the Bucks last week, leaving his role as an analyst at ESPN to replace Adrian Griffin as head coach.
In the first game of his 25th season on the NBA sidelines, Rivers’ squad was unable to contain the dominant play of two-time MVP Nikola Jokić.
The 28-year-old Serbian posted 25 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists to lead the Nuggets with his league-high 14th triple-double of the season.
The game was tight throughout, featuring 12 ties and nine lead changes, though Denver was able to pull away in the clutch – defined by the NBA as the final five minutes of a game separated by five points or fewer – outscoring the Bucks 15-10 to win a thriller.
“To be honest, that’s why we play,” Jokić said after the game. “I mean, that’s why I play. To play this kind of game. To play under the pressure. To play tight games. I think that’s what every player’s dream is. I love to play under those circumstances.”
Though Jokić was the Nuggets’ offensive hub as usual, it was his Denver co-star Jamal Murray that led the team in scoring, racking up 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting to go along with five assists.
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for Milwaukee, scoring 29 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Brook Lopez and Damian Lillard had 19 and 18 points respectively as the Bucks fell just short.
“I thought tonight was an offensive loss,” said Rivers. “I didn’t think we were crisp offensively. We had stretches where the ball was humming and hopping, and then we had stretches where it didn’t. Those stretches we have to clean up.”
The decision to dismiss Griffin and bring in Rivers was somewhat surprising, given that the Bucks had second-best record in the league at 30-13 at the time of Griffin’s firing, though there had been some on-court struggles, particularly on the defensive end.
Though Milwaukee could not get over the line against Denver, Rivers was pleased with his squad’s effort and described his team as “very coachable.”
“The fight is there. That is something really encouraging moving forward,” said the 62-year-old.
The Bucks’ record now stands at 32-15 after Monday’s loss, with the 2021 champions occupying the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Their next matchup is a big one, as Lillard returns to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers, the franchise that drafted him and where he spent 11 seasons of his career.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets, also seeded second, improve to 33-15 – half a game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves in a competitive Western Conference.
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