The Golden State Warriors are the kings of the NBA until someone takes their throne. And when you come for the king, you’d better not miss, especially in a revenge game a month after slapping an embarrassing 23-point loss on the Warriors in Oakland.
Missing, though, is exactly what the Milwaukee Bucks spent all night doing during a 105-95 loss Friday at Fiserv Forum on a night when the sellout crowd rarely roared and the final result didn’t feel as close as the 10-point final margin.
“We struggled on the offensive side – coach talked about some things we could sharpen up on – but I think for the most part we played a tough game,” Bucks wing Khris Middleton said. “They did a great job of holding us under 100 points. I can’t remember if a team has done that.”
In fact, no team had held the Bucks under 100 points all season prior to Friday.
With Giannis Antetokounmpo swarmed by defenders on virtually every touch – and somehow still finding a way to finish with 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting along with 15 rebounds – Milwaukee needed the rest of its supporting cast to show up. By and large, that didn’t happen as the Bucks went a season-worst 7 of 39 on three-pointers, good for a paltry 17.9%. That dragged down their overall shooting percentage to a season-worst 39.1%.
“Offensively, I think we can be better,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We didn’t move very well or play with very much force. Just we weren’t very good tonight offensively. But I think you have to give their defense credit. They make things difficult on you. I think we’ll learn from both ends of the court.”
BOX SCORE: Warriors 105, Bucks 95
While Golden State’s switching defense and constant double-teams of Antetokounmpo flummoxed Milwaukee’s offense, the Warriors picked the Bucks apart at the other end by using their aggressiveness against them. Bent on trying to shut off opportunities for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant – who combined for 51 points anyway – the Bucks left capable shooters and cutters open all around the floor.
Andre Iguodala made them pay, turning open looks into 15 points. Jonas Jerebko put up 12 off the bench – all on three-pointers, going 4 of 9 – and played a vital defensive role, drawing three charges on the evening. Alfonzo McKinnie, often with all the time in the world, added three triples for 9 points. As a team, the Warriors splashed 19 of 46 three-pointers (41.3%).
“It was kind of the difference in the game; a few of their kind of guys off the ball – Iguodala, McKinnie and Jerebko – they made enough threes tonight,” Budenholzer said. “You have to pick your poison.”
Milwaukee’s starting lineup, stocked with shooters around Antetokounmpo, looked like they had their wings clipped as they couldn’t get anything going from three-point range. Counting Antetokounmpo’s 0-for-2 performance from beyond the arc, the Bucks’ top unit was a paltry 5 of 27 on three-pointers (18.5 percent).
Middleton, back from missing Wednesday’s game due to personal issues, was 1 of 7 on his own from deep as part of a cold night overall. He missed his first four shots and didn’t get much traction until the third quarter, ultimately finishing with 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting. He did draw praise from Budenholzer, though, for his work in helping limit Durant to 11 points on 3 of 14 shooting.
“It’s been a normal week,” Middleton said when asked about his week, which included getting benched in the fourth quarter and overtime Saturday against the New York Knicks and missing Wednesday’s game due to personal reasons. “You’ve seen the reports, the stories that have been told, but it’s been a normal week. We had a conversation and we moved on and it’s been nothing but positive since then.”
Malcolm Brogdon, a nearly 50 percent three-point shooter this season, put up some ugly misses on the way to a 1 of 6 shooting night from deep, though he did attack the basket well at times to finish with 15 points.
Eric Bledsoe caught similar amounts of iron during his 14-point showing, struggling after a hot start and finishing with five turnovers while battling foul trouble and inconsistency. Brook Lopez, usually a solid outside threat, did more work spinning and whirling to the hook for buckets than he did beyond the arc, where he went 1 of 6.
“You have to live with it,” Antetokounmpo said of all the missed shots, also noting that he felt the Warriors doubled him both more often and more quickly than other teams this season. “If your teammate is wide open and he takes a shot and it doesn’t go in you’ve got to live with it because in the next game he’s going to make that shot. … All we care about is good shots.”
As sloppy as the game was – the Bucks had 19 turnovers while the Warriors committed 18 giveaways – the Bucks were competitive deep into the third quarter. Ersan Ilyasova, back from missing two games due to a concussion, even gave Milwaukee a two-point lead, 74-72, with 3 minutes, 9 seconds left in the third. However, that margin lasted all of nine seconds before Curry knocked down a three at the other end.
From there it was all Warriors, as Golden State ended the third on an 11-2 run, including Curry either scoring or assisting on the Warriors’ final four baskets of the period on his way to 20 points and a game-high eight assists. Golden State maintained a comfortable margin for the rest of the game, never letting the Bucks closer than five points and spending most of the final period with their advantage hovering around double digits.
The Bucks may be off to a better start this season, but the Warriors served a stark reminder Friday – even in an overall ugly, defensive game – that they’re still the kings of the NBA and didn’t take kindly to the Bucks winning each of the past two matchups in Oakland.
“This was a game that meant a lot to us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We were embarrassed a few weeks ago.”