The Golden State Warriors survived a spirited Milwaukee Bucks effort 122-121 in San Francisco last night, thanks to Stephen Curry’s dominance and robust teamwide contributions. Let’s jump into some key takeaways from that huge victory.
Disclaimer: yeah we were lucky reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t play! But if you ask me they got pretty lucky that Klay Thompson couldn’t suit up either, cuz only of those two dudes has championships bahahah ok let’s get serious.
Will Curry be the first MVP from a 10th seed?
It wasn’t just that Curry, the greatest point guard in the NBA, scored 41 points on 14-of-21 shooting (5-of-10 from 3PT range). The jarring part was that he gave much of that business to the defensive genius Jrue Holiday. The Bucks star guard just signed a $160 million dollar contract in large part because of his lockdown abilities. Curry’s former teammate Kevin Durant named Holiday “probably the best defender in the league at the guard position”.
And yet last night Curry lit Holiday up like a Christmas tree with an onslaught of crafty drives and electric shooting.
What a weapon to have. He scored 30 of Golden State’s 69 second half points, with 19 of his points coming in the third quarter. Keep in mind that Milwaukee had stretched their lead to 12 in that third period; Curry’s flurry kept the Warriors alive.
I know Antetokounmpo wasn’t playing, but the Bucks still had the alleged best guard defender in the game, with a whole gameplan focused on stopping Curry. They failed: look at this man’s shot chart from the second half! .
Warriors activate disciplined defense
The Dubs have been scrutinized recently for their abhorrent fouling habits and I’m happy to report they had a respectable showing on that front against the Bucks. Golden State committed only 18 fouls, conceding a manageable 19-of-22 free throw shooting to Milwaukee. Draymond Green was the only Warrior in foul trouble, fouling out in the 4th quarter after tallying 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists for the game.
The visitors relied heavily on Holiday and Khris Middleton to carry the load in Antetokounmpo’s absence and they responded big, scoring 29 and 28 points respectively. But the Warriors forced a combined 13 turnovers out of them, with Holiday coughing up 8 of ‘em.
Reinvigorated forward Andrew Wiggins sealed the victory with a tremendous block on Middleton in the final seconds. “Maple Jordan” tallied three blocks on the evening, prompting LGW friend Sleepy Freud to drop this gem in the game thread:
Don’t sleep on this roster defensively; they’ve spent extended time this season in the top-10 in DRTG. If they can stay healthy and keep building trust, this defense will make them a tough out in the postseason.
Strength in Numbers lives on?
Kerr has been very vocal about evolving the roles of Curry and Green’s teammates beyond the level of the friendly Looney Tunes cartoon characters who desperately force fed Michael Jordan in Space Jam. Many times this season we’ve seen the roster struggle when Curry subbed out.
Other times with him on the floor, the Dubs have forced turnovers trying to squeeze the ball to their two-time MVP or missed him with unfortunate spells of tunnel vision. Thankfully the Warriors roster development took a big step forward in last night’s victory, with some much maligned hoopers coming up huge when it counted.
Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 19 points with 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc, including two 4th quarter bombs that countered potential knockout blows from the Bucks.
Kent Bazemore hasn’t had a perfect season, but last night he had himself a ball game, scoring 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench. He drilled all four of his triples and added two steals. He also became the de facto secondary playmaker when Green was disqualified, intelligently toggling between passing to Curry and looking for his own drives to the rim.
Jordan Poole was looking rather Barbosaish, confidently navigating through the pick-and-roll and making the Bucks pay. His 10 points and 6 assists in 17 minutes off the bench were crucial to the win, and he’s looking more confident as the season marches on. If he can continue to score and distribute like that, the Warriors will have finally found a legit answer at the backup guard spot (sorry Wanamaker).
Rookie James Wiseman had a double double in the first half and finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He had an embarrassing blown dunk attempt, but overall the gaffe didn’t besmirch his quality showing against the veteran center Brook Lopez.
And a big shoutout goes to Kevon Looney and Damion Lee for bringing quality minutes off the bench as well! Looney in particular was solid down the stretch as Green struggled with foul trouble.
Last night’s game was a good pop quiz for the next wave of Strength in Numbers hopefuls. Coach Steve Kerr has been mocked relentlessly for using Curry as a screener for his less heralded teammates, but check out the little guard causing havoc for Milwaukee’s defense on this screen for Wiggins:
Wiggins had been bricking all night, scoring 9 points on 4-of-15 shooting (including a ghastly 1-of-8 from downtown). And yet there he was getting a screen from arguably the best player alive, sending the defense into fits, leading to a big time slam in the clutch. THAT’S STRENGTH IN NUMBERS BABY!
The great part about watching the Dubs battling for a postseason berth is keeping tabs on the teams chasing them. Right now Golden State is battling like mad for playoff seeding like Keanu Reeves in John Wick. If they can pull this off, I think it’s absolutely clear Coach Kerr needs to be unanimously voted Coach of the Year for taking a roster chock full of G-Leaguers and castaways to the big dance.