Nikola Jokić, Nuggets spoil Doc Rivers’ coaching debut with Milwaukee Bucks

Though the Doc Rivers era in Milwaukee is now officially underway, his debut with the Bucks didn’t quite go as planned.

Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets rallied out of an early hole to beat the Bucks 113-107 on Monday night at Ball Arena, which spoiled Rivers’ coaching debut with the franchise. Jokić had a triple-double with 25 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists, and Jamal Murray dropped 35 points in the win for the Nuggets.

The with the franchise. Griffin replaced Mike Budenholzer, who was fired after the Bucks were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round last spring. The job marked Griffin’s first as a head coach in the league, though he had spent 15 seasons working as an assistant and nearly a decade as a player. The Bucks held a 30-13 record when he was fired, which was good for second in the Eastern Conference.

Almost immediately, the — who had been working as an ESPN analyst after he . Rivers has 24 seasons of head coaching experience in the league under his belt, and he won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

“I’ve never done this,” Rivers said last week of joining a team mid-season, . “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I can tell you that, just from the day-and-a-half. But it’s going to be a challenge. It’s a challenge that I’m running toward.

“We’ve got to get organized quickly. Can’t try to do too much too soon. We’re in the middle of a season, so we’ve got to try to keep our rhythm. There are changes that we have to make, there’s no doubt about that. We’ll start working on it immediately.”

But at least with the Bucks, Rivers said, the team is in a much better place than most first-year coaches step into.

“They know where they want to go,” Rivers said before the game, . “This is not a team that you’re trying to convince them that they can be something. I think my last job I thought the first year, you were almost trying to convince them how good they could be. This team already, we have five guys who have done it. Dame came in here because he wants to do it. So it’s not like you have to try to talk them into a goal, they already know what the goal is.”

The Bucks came out hot in Rivers’ debut. They opened the game on Monday night with a 17-6 run while shooting 7-of-10 from the field. The Nuggets slowly chipped away at that lead, however, and went into the locker room tied up 56-56. Jamal Murray had 21 points in the first half for the Nuggets, too, after he shot an impressive 9-of-15 from the field.

The Nuggets pushed ahead to a seven point lead headed into the fourth quarter after they held the Bucks to just 19 points as a team in the third. Jokić had a triple-double by that point, too.

The Bucks then opened the fourth quarter on a 13-4 run, which was capped by a pair of Bobby Portis 3-pointers. Portis had missed his first nine shot attempts of the game before sinking those two shots from behind the arc. While that brought the Bucks right back in it, and Giannis Antetokounmpo cut it back to three points late, it wasn’t quite enough. The Nuggets, with 14 fourth-quarter points from Murray held on to grab the six-point win.

Jokić shot 10-of-25 from the field and went just 1-of-6 from the 3-point line while recording his triple-double for the Nuggets. Michael Porter Jr. added 13 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished with 10 points. The Nuggets shot just 4-of-18 from the 3-point line as a team. The win marked Nuggets coach Michael Malones’ 400th career win with the franchise, too.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Brook Lopez finished with 19 points, and Damian Lillard had 18 points and five assists. The Bucks, who have now lost just two of their last six games, will now head to Portland for a game against the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. Rivers won’t get to make his home debut until Feb. 8, when the Bucks host the Minnesota Timberwolves at Fiserv Forum after wrapping up their five game road trip.

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