The Warriors found a way to finally solve the Bucks in the fourth quarter Friday, capping a victory that really could have been a loss. After the defeat in Milwaukee, not much credit was given to the Bucks for what they actually are: a great team that is severely underplaying their level of talent and not living up to expectations. The Bucks talent level looks stacked on paper, and season expectations were high.
The Warriors have beaten good teams. They have solved the Clippers twice, who arguably have just as much talent and look like an actual contender. This is Bucks team that got swept in LA by both Southern California teams. They got blasted by the Lakers (though that might have been aided by the distraction of adult entertainment). Why do they challenge the Warriors so much?
Below are four reasons I believe the Bucks represent the type of team that can challenge the Warriors:
#1: Length, and more length
The Bucks are long. They are lanky. They are athletic. They have put together a group of starters who are lanky, agile and physical. Look at these stats:
Giannis Atentokounmpo - 6-11, huge wingspan
Michael Carter Willams - 6-6, huge wing span
Jabari Parker - 6-8, big wingspan
John Henson - 6-11, big wingspan
Kris Middleton - 6-8, athletic
Their small forward is 6-11! That's why he is the Greek Freak! Don't forget about the big athletic bodies they have coming off the bench. They play the passing lanes, contest shots. This length challenges the Warriors shooters. Guards like Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight don't have the length to keep up with the Warriors wings. The Bucks can run two at Curry all night long and contest his passes out of the hedge. The Warriors guards also cannot drive past the Bucks guards like they are use to to get to the lane. The Warriors are stuck heaving from the outside, and had it not been for shots finally going in during the 4th, they would have lost again.
How do you solve it? You don't really. The Warriors countered as they should have - passing out of the double, and attacking the rim and beating the weak side defense to the basket. The Warriors were getting their shots, but they need guys like Brandon Rush/Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green to hit their outside shots to counter the double. Teams will start putting their larger bodies on Steph to punish him and counter his passes out of the double with length.
#2: The fouls. Oh, the fouls
Toronto, the Bucks, the Celtics - these teams forced the Warriors into foul trouble. Michael Carter-Williams was dominating Curry all night as he tried to keep up. He forced easy baskets, which lead to over-aggressive defense, which lead to the free throw line. Both Bogut (pre-injury), Festus and the ghost of Jason Thompson all were fouling up a storm last night trying to cover Giannis, Monroe and the other Bucks bigs.
The Warriors want you to shoot threes. They are better at shooting threes than you are, and they will outshoot you. But non-shooting teams cause foul trouble and challenge them. It doesn't matter that they have some of the best on-ball guys in the league in Green and Iguodala. This is why Chris Paul hurts him when he drives. This is why Kyle Lowry has big games against the Dubs. This is the main reason the Grizzlies were such a hard challenge for the Warriors until they stopped covering Tony Allen. The Bucks don't know how to shoot threes - and that's actually a huge problem for the Warriors.
How do you solve it? You get a healthy Bogut, who is one of the best help defenders in the league. You keep hoping Curry will get better at his footwork to stop dribble penetration. You hope the refs are allowing contact at the rim and stop punishing the Warriors with fouls and uneven free throw numbers. The Warriors will continue to force other teams to be jump shooting teams by collapsing the lane. This is fixable - but it's definitely a way to challenge them.
#3: The Warriors really miss Harrison Barnes
Face it: Harrison Barnes does the quiet things that make this team tick. He might not show up in the stat lines, but his defense, his rebounding, his passing and running are all important for the Warriors to win. Brandon Rush has done a great job keeping up with the starters with his outside shooting and defense. Harrison Barnes will rightfully get all his minutes back when he returns because he solidifies the roster in those small ways the team is missing right now. Rush should keep playing hard - his future will probably be as a trade piece for a wing scorer with the second unit (Kevin Martin anyone?). Rush deserves minutes in the NBA, but there isn't much fit with the rotations for the Warriors.
Against the Bucks, there was no good match up for Giannis on the post, Toward the end of the game, everyone took a turn on him before Draymond finally had to say "he's mine". Sure, Iggy was on the bench, but mostly because he was ineffective on the offensive end and I assume Walton wanted Rush's shooting to spread the floor. With Barnes, you get a guy with great footwork who can take a pass on Giannis in the post and counter his strength.
How do you solve it? Barnes gets healthy. He returned back to practice this week and would probably be targeting the team's next game after a four-day break. I'm guessing he would love to get some time on the court before the Christmas day showdown against the Cavs.
#4 When the threes don't go down, the team is slow to adjust
The Warriors love their threes, and we love to watch them shoot. When they don't go in, it turns ugly quick. When the Warriors lost to the Bucks last, the threes didn't go down. They went 9-26 on Friday, and went 6-27 back in Milwaukee. Call it what you will - fatigue, bad luck. This is the give and take of a jump shooting team.
How do you solve it? Do the Warriors have enough aggressors to the rim? Draymond saw it last night, and started attacking at every chance. Even though his free throws are a question, he gets teams into foul trouble and puts pressure on opponents bigs. Klay Thompson has gotten more aggressive, and he needs to continue to do so. Steph has been a master at the rim, but couldn't get over Carter-WIlliams last night. If they realize the shots are going down, they simply need to continue to drive until the layups go in without falling back to their old ways. Oh - and the lobs to Festus aren't working guys. You are forcing it - knock that off.
- Listening to Fitz on the play-by-play yell at the refs has to be some of the best unintentional comedy in the league. The Ezeli call at the end of the game was a judgement call and not so clear. Fitz made it sound like a travesty. Homer on Fitz... homer on.
- Kyrie Irving returns to the court this weekend, just in time for the Cavs game on Christmas. You bring your best guys, we bring ours, and we can finally settle this once and for all. I want Kyrie out there to go with Kevin Love and LeBron James. The Warriors need these challenge games to get ready for the title runs, and need to stop getting distracted by OJ Mayo not being able to keep his hands to himself.
- It has been great to see the Warrior back at home. The seven game trip was a bit long, and every spot had a hot road crowd looking to end the streak. Last night, the fans willed the team back into it and showed up with the energy. Don't mind that I can't afford a ticket to a game anymore... keep the energy going Oakland fans.
Next game: Next Tuesday against the Jazz at home. Possible Harrison Barnes return, and four days rest should have Bogut back on the court as well. It's all warm up for Christmas day...