April 14, 2024

Bucks preach patience after Nuggets spoil Doc Rivers debut


DENVER – Before Doc Rivers played for his first game as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks Already on Monday evening in Denver he emphasized the need for patience.

For the first time in his 25-year coaching career, Rivers is taking over a team in the middle of the season, a challenge he said he “wouldn't wish on anyone.” Meanwhile, the Bucks are adjusting to an entirely new voice in the huddle after coach First-year starter Adrian Griffin was replaced by Rivers.

“It’s going to take a minute,” Rivers said before Monday 113-107 Lost to the Nuggets. “What I'm really slowly trying to do is incorporate some of my stuff and simplify some of their stuff.

“One thing you don't want to do that we're so afraid of is paralyzing their brain, and now they're thinking about it. So it’s just going to take a while.”

Denver spoiled Rivers' coaching debut with a loss, dropping him to 1-4 in his career in his first game with a new team, but the Bucks were still encouraged by one of their most inspiring defensive efforts of the season.

They held the Nuggets, one of the league's highest-scoring offenses, to 113 points, forcing a two-time MVP Nikola Jokic He had to take 25 shots to score 25 points – although he still finished with a triple-double with 16 rebounds and 12 assists. Jamal Murray Added 35 points.

But it was an improvement over a Bucks team that ranks 24th in the league in defensive efficiency, prompting Rivers to joke that the “cat is out of the bag” now that the Bucks have proven that they can play defense.

“I told our guys that anyone who told you you couldn’t play defense was lying,” Rivers said after the game. “You proved that tonight. You competed tonight.

“Dame and Giannis have played 40 games together in their lives, Joker and Murray have played – you know? And if you look at the game tonight, they got it going, our guys didn't get it going, and that was the difference.”

Damian Lillard finished with 18 points on 5 of 13 shooting and Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 points and 12 rebounds. Antetokounmpo was pleased with the way the Bucks played in their first game under Rivers and said the learning process will take some time.

“He was great,” Antetokounmpo said of Rivers. “Everyone has to be patient. It's new – the way we play, the way we defend, it's going to take a while to get used to it. We are adapting very slowly and changing a few things. The coaching team has to have patience with the players. The players have to be patient with the coaching staff, but I feel like the first game was good.”

For Antetokounmpo, the improved intensity on defense was a direct reflection of how the players responded under Rivers.

“Ultimately the game plan is one thing, but our effort is.” [has] “We always have to be there,” he said. “We have very, very smart players in the team and sometimes when the game plan is not that precise, sometimes our performance is not there and that is not good.”

“We can’t just choose. To win you have to do it all the time. There will be times when you lose games, but to win at a high level you have to be a standard. And today, I think we set the standard as a team.”

Rivers takes over the Bucks in the midst of a nine-day, five-game road trip, providing an opportunity to get to know his new team away from home. He envisions longer shootarounds and perhaps a few extra days of practice than usual to help players get used to the adjustments he's asking them to make.

With 35 games left on the Bucks' schedule before the playoffs, Rivers takes the reins, knowing not everything can be solved in a day. But the subtle tweaks with an experienced leader at the helm have already led to Bucks players joining the process.

“I thought there was just a great feeling of serenity and calm,” Bucks said Brook Lopez said of Rivers' debut as her coach. “Nothing too high or too low. I mean this in the best way possible. He handled everything brilliantly. He did a good job making sure everyone was clear about their responsibilities, what to do defensively and offensively, and there were no problems.” No real problems.

“He did a good job making sure everyone was on the same page from the start.”

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