While a rematch with the champs in Oakland ultimately delivered the assumed result -- the Warriors were favored by 19 points! -- the Bucks were astoundingly the better team for about 42 of 48 minutes on Friday night, leading by as many as 15 in the second half and 11 in the fourth quarter before eventually running out of gas against the relentless ball movement and limitless shooting of the defending champs.
Stephen Curry (26p/10r/9a) and Draymond Green (21/9r/8a) each just missed triple-doubles, while Klay Thompson scored a game-high 27 as Golden State steamrolled the Bucks 36-19 in the final quarter. The run that never came in Milwaukee last Saturday finally arrived in front of a raucous crowd in Oakland, and ultimately the Bucks ran out of ammo against the league's best team. And so it goes.
As for the good news: Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 20 points on 17 shots with six rebounds and four assists, Michael Carter-Williams added 24 on 18 shots to go with four rebounds and four assists, and Greg Monroe returned after missing the two games in L.A. to add 10 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. More importantly, the Bucks once again didn't look intimidated by a Warrior team that had all the motivation in the world to prove last Saturday's loss in Milwaukee was a fluke.
Giannis returned to the starting five and scored on consecutive dunks to get the Bucks off to a good start, and from there on out it was the MCW show in the first quarter. Showing no hesitation after the war of words leading up to the game, MCW shook off an early flagrant foul from Andrew Bogut to hit 4/5 and score a team-high 13 points to help the Bucks to a 36-33 lead after one.
Giannis then went to work to start the second, using his size to take Andre Iguodala down low for five quick points. And, weirdly enough, the Bucks just kept it going. The Warriors' penchant for sagging off allowed the Bucks to move the ball and find mismatches in the post without much hassle, and the end result was 60% shooting and a 70-58 (!) halftime lead for Milwaukee.
A Khris Middleton three extended the Bucks lead to 75-60 early in the third, but then the Warriors finally woke up. Thompson and Curry began to find daylight and punish the Bucks from the outside, while on the other end the Bucks' hot hands predictably started to cool as the Warriors began to more effectively wall off the paint. Still, the Bucks weren't ready to fold despite the Warriors 17-4 run: MCW shocked the universe by calmly burying a three to extend Milwaukee's lead to 86-80, and a pretty Mayo-to-Parker fast break connection helped the Bucks take an encouraging 93-85 to the fourth.
The Bucks kept it going against the Warrior reserves early, but Green then took matters into his own hands with an 8-0 run on his own to make it 100-97 with just over six minutes remaining. Then it was Curry and Thompson's turn to punish the bucks down the stretch, though Milwaukee did find a counter by repeatedly running plays through Giannis on the block. Unfortunately by then the lion was already out of its cage, as the Warriors kept scoring and ran away at the free throw line in the final minute..
- The first half was easily the Bucks' most impressive performance of the season. Scoring 70 points against anyone is an absurd accomplishment for this team, but to do it against a highly motivated Warriors team that's defended at a top ten level? Wow. If only they could bring 90% of that every night, eh?
- The Bucks reunited the team's theoretical best starting five of MCW, Khris, Giannis, Jabari and Moose to good effect in the first three quarters (+5), but they couldn't hold the lead in the fourth (-7).
- John Henson struggled mightily, picking up up three fouls in two minutes of action of the first quarter. Miles Plumlee replaced him and responded with a high-energy performance that saw him pile up 11 of his 13 points (3/3 fg, 7/8 ft) in the first half. Guess who's the Bucks' best backup big right now?
- Jabari Parker scored eight of his 14 points in the second quarter, but unfortunately he became more and more of a liability as the game wore on, in particular on the defensive end. His poor instincts as a help defender become even more painfully obvious against a high-octane team like the Warriors -- exhibit A being late in the fourth when he picked up Steph Curry driving to the basket and the randomly ran the other direction to allow Curry an uncontested layup. There were a few more examples like that throughout the game, and often it's just a case of thinking a guy who isn't there is switching or otherwise helping. I'm glad Kidd was willing to throw him back into the fire midway through the fourth, but Kidd had no choice but to eventually pull him for Mayo.
- Giannis was really good, and it feels really good to say that, doesn't it? It's the first time in 13 long games that he cracked the 20-point mark, and it must have felt especially good after Wednesday's weird 9-point effort against the Clippers. Key to the night was his ability to back down smaller defenders on the block:
Giannis' 17 FGA = most he's attempted in a regulation game all year. More interestingly, all of them came in paint. pic.twitter.com/TazFOtbuU3— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) December 19, 2015
- The Bucks might have won if they had been capable of hitting an open three (4/18); Middleton was just 2/9 from deep and O.J. Mayo -- coming off the bench for the first time since November 27 -- missed all six of his three point attempts. On the plus side, Rashad Vaughn hit his first three (or shot period) since December 2, while MCW calmly stroked his first three since November 17.
- Green and Mayo exchanged pleasantries after the final whistle:
- I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say the Bucks have created a blueprint for beating (or just competing with) the Warriors, but it's probably a bit worrying from a Warrior perspective that they talked about being motivated to get revenge on the Bucks all week and then played like that. Speaking of which, despite having only one loss, the Warriors can't even boast the best point differential in basketball anymore -- that honor now goes to the Spurs.
Here's what happened after the game: Mayo and Draymond talk, Mayo taps him on the head, Dray brushes him off. pic.twitter.com/R8tsALbaDk— Aron Yohannes (@AronYohannes) December 19, 2015