Winners of eight straight games, the Golden State Warriors welcomed the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, to Oracle Arena for what many think could be a NBA Finals preview.
Led by new head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks look like a team on the rise. Against the Warriors at Oracle Arena, the Bucks played like they were the two-time defending champs. Using a 41-28 third quarter, the visiting Bucks blew out the Warriors 134-111, handing the Dubs their second defeat of the season.
No Draymond means no defense
Giannis Antetokounmpo continued his strong start to the season on Thursday night. Antetokounmpo scored 24 points against the defending champs, while grabbing 9 rebounds, handing out 4 assists and blocking 2 shots. Antetokounmpo played like a potential MVP, getting whatever he wanted. The Warriors had no answer for the force of nature that is the Bucks’ big man as he took over the game and drove the visiting team to an impressive win.
One big reason Antetokounmpo played so well was because the Warriors were without their best defender—Draymond Green. The Bucks took full advantage, scoring a notable 84 points in the paint. The Warriors offered no resistance as the Bucks were able to get to the rim and score with ease. It was clear that the Warriors missed the energy and intensity that Green gives them on the defensive end.
A big part of the Bucks’ hot start this season has been the improved play of the supporting cast around Antetokounmpo, something that was on display on Thursday night. Eric Bledsoe led all scorers in the game with 26 points, seemingly able to blow by every defender that the Warriors threw at him and get to the basket. The Bucks also got 20 points from Malcolm Brogdon and 17 from Khris Middleton, giving the visiting team more-than-enough scoring to get a comfortable win.
Green’s absence was also felt on the offense end. The Warriors were slowed down by the Bucks’ length, not getting good shots and frequently turning the ball over (more on that later). Having a skilled passer like Green on the court is the perfect way to counter the length of a team like the Bucks, making smarter and crisper passes, while his superb screening ability helps create open looks when they might not otherwise be there.
Having Green miss this game opened the door and then the Bucks kicked that door down with their impressive performance.
Dubs’ offense fails to catch fire
After starting the season with play reminiscent of his 2016 unanimous-MVP season, Stephen Curry had easily his worst performance of the 2018-19 campaign against the Bucks. Bothered by the aforementioned Bucks’ length and missing Green’s passing and screening, Curry scored just 10 points while shooting 5/14 from the field, including going 0/4 from three-point range.
Unfortunately, Curry’s night came to an early end as he suffered a left adductor strain midway through the third quarter and did not return the rest of the game.
Curry wasn’t the only Warriors star player struggling as Kevin Durant also had a sub-par game. Durant scored just 17 points, going an inefficient 6/15 from the field. Durant did finish the game with 9 assists, but it wasn’t enough to get the Warriors’ offense rolling against a rather tenacious Bucks defense. The Bucks attacked Durant’s handle repeatedly, causing him to turn the ball over six times, which is the most Durant has turned it over in one game this season.
At times on Thursday night, it looked like Klay Thompson was the only Warriors player who could do anything offensively. Thompson scored a team-high 24 points, including going 2/2 from three-point range. One of Thompson’s three-pointers came in the second quarter on this nifty no-look pass from Curry that provided one of the few Warriors highlights of the evening.
One thing of note in Thompson’s game was his willingness to draw contact and get to the free-throw line. Thompson averages around two free-throws per game, but against the Bucks he shot six times from the charity stripe. Last season, Thompson shot 6+ free throws just twice, so it is a pretty rare feat for the Warriors’ All-Star shooting guard.
The Warriors supporting cast, save for Andre Iguodala (who knocked down two three-pointers), did not pick up the slack for their stars. It was a rough game for Jonas Jerebko and Alfonzo McKinnie in particular, as the two role players came back to Earth after the spectacular starts to their season. Jerebko went 0/4 from the field on Thursday night while McKinnie shot 2/10, as both players both missed quite a few open looks at the basket. You knew that a regression back towards the mean was coming for these two. Unfortunately, that’s what we saw from them against the Bucks.
The Bucks boast a top-five defensive rating so far this season. This was painfully evident on Thursday night as they disrupted and stifled the best offense in the league, holding the Warriors to 48.3% from the field and 35.7% from three-point range.
The little things that made the difference
There are three keys to beating the Warriors—draw fouls/get to the free-throw line, force turnovers, dominate the offensive glass. On Thursday night, the Bucks did all three of them.
The Warriors got into foul trouble very quickly as Curry and Jordan Bell, starting for the injured Green, each picked up two fouls early in the first quarter. This prevented the Warriors from getting into a true and lasting offensive rhythm while also quickly putting them into the bonus. This meant the Bucks were frequently at the free-throw line. In the first half, the Bucks attempted 19 free throws while the Warriors took just 8 shots from the free-throw line.
The Warriors turned the ball over 18 times against the Bucks, leading to 23 points for the visiting team. The Bucks’ length resulted in deflected passes and poor choices by the Warriors because of the defensive pressure the Bucks showed. Because of all those turnovers, the Bucks attempted 14 more field goals than the Warriors, including a third quarter when the Bucks shot 12 more times than the Warriors, allowing them to push their lead to 27 points at one time.
The Warriors were also unable to stop the Bucks from scoring second-chance points. The Bucks scored 20 second-chance points on Thursday night, turning their 13 offensive rebounds into scoring opportunities. While some of those offensive rebounds were because Green sat out and Antetokounmpo is just that dominant, a significant number of them were simply because the Bucks hustled and the Warriors did not. Players like Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton (who also scored 15 points off the bench) were flying to loose balls, extending possessions and giving the Bucks more opportunities to extend their lead.
Giving an opponent that many extra chances to score is going to make it tough for any team to win, even one as talented as the Warriors.
After this blowout loss, the Warriors will regroup and look to get back to their winning ways as they welcome the Brooklyn Nets to Oracle Arena on Saturday night to wrap up this five-game home stand.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to Tower of Power, the group from Oakland that played at halftime of the game given that it was “70’s night” at Oracle Arena. They’re a great Oakland institution and it was really cool that to see them playing for the Warriors’ crowd in the team’s final season in the East Bay.