Brook Lopez’s shooting stroke disappeared in the fourth quarter, so he helped turn the game around with a defensive play.
With the game tied at 112 and just under two minutes left, Lopez stopped Nikola Jokic in the lane, leading to a steal by Malcolm Brogdon. The Bucks went the other way, and Giannis Antetokounmpo found a trailing Brogdon for the go-ahead 3-pointer as the Bucks pulled away in the final minutes for a 121-114 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
The Bucks (10-3) finished their difficult West Coast trip with a 2-2 mark. They also snapped an eight-game losing streak in Denver.
After Brogdon’s 3-pointer gave the Bucks a 115-112 lead, Khris Middleton hit a high-arching jumper over Nikolai Jokic with 42.8 seconds left.
Paul Millsap dunked for the Nuggets after a timeout, but Denver chose to foul Middleton quickly after the inbounds pass. Middleton made two free throws with 30.8 seconds left, and the Nuggets turned it over on the inbound pass as Eric Bledsoe came up with a steal. Bledsoe missed a layup attempt but tapped the ball out to where Lopez tapped it to Middleton.
After a timeout, the Bucks executed, and Bledsoe scored on a baseline dunk. The Bucks closed it from there.
Lopez made six third-quarter 3-pointers as the Bucks turned a 63-59 halftime lead into a 99-88 margin entering the fourth.
The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter with a 21-6 run during which the Bucks offense bogged down with too much dribbling and bad passes. Ahead, 109-105, the Nuggets had two possessions to push the lead. Instead, Gary Harris’ bad pass led to a steal and layup for Bledsoe.
On the Nuggets’ next possession, Bledsoe blocked Jamal Murray’s shot and broke the other way. Pat Connaughton fed Bledsoe perfectly, and Bledsoe’s layup and free throw put the Bucks ahead, 110-109.
A free throw by Harris and a jumper by Murray gave the Nuggets a 112-110 lead. Giannis Antetokounmpo tied it on a layup off a Bledsoe assist, setting up the final two minutes keyed by Lopez’s defensive play and Brogdon’s 3-pointer.
Lopez led all scorers with 28 points. Antetokounmpo had 22, Middleton 21 and Brogdon 20. Antetokounmpo added nine rebounds and eight assists but went 0 for 5 from the free throw line.
Paul Millsap led the Nuggets (9-4) with 25, but just two of them came in the second half.
The victory came a night after a disappointing overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I think the response today by our group was what we’re looking for,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Getting better, competing. A lot of those things that are kind of our mantras. It was a high-level NBA game.”
Lopez put on a shooting clinic in the third quarter, making five 3-pointers, each one just a little longer than the previous. That gave him eight for the game in 11 attempts. He missed his two 3-point tries in the fourth quarter.
Bledsoe added eight rebounds and three steals to his line, with two of the steals coming at huge moments in the fourth quarter.