OAKLAND – The Warriors are relieved that they won’t see the Milwaukee Bucks again this season.
The Bucks may have a losing record, but they are very long, very athletic and proved once again Friday night that they are capable of taking the purr out of the smooth, powerhouse engine that is the Warriors offense.
Though the Warriors summoned enough fury for a 121-112 victory before another sellout crowd (19,596) at Oracle Arena, there were far more anxious moments and ripples of concern than you’d reasonably expect from a Bucks team that was 10-17 and playing its third road game in four nights.
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“We didn’t start the game with the intensity it takes to stop teams,” interim head coach Luke Walton said.
For all the talk from the Warriors about seeking to avenge their only loss, Dec. 12 at Milwaukee, they spent the first half watching the Bucks sprint to the cup. The Warriors shot 44.9 percent in the first half while allowing 70 points, the most by any opponent this season and also a Bucks season-high for a half.
“I expected us to be better in the first half but we just didn’t defend,” Draymond Green said. “I mean we had 58 points. We scored the ball. But we didn’t get it done on the defensive end. That’s something that needed to get done and we made the change after halftime.”
After allowing Milwaukee to shoot 59.5 percent in the first half, the Warriors held the Bucks to 38.1 percent in the third quarter and 32.1 percent in the fourth.
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“We were very public about the fact that we wanted to get revenge, but then we didn’t come out and play with that edge and that mentality,” Walton said. “If you are going to say that about another team you should expect that team not to come out and fold because you say it.”
The Bucks were the aggressors early, before the Warriors recognized their peril and turned to the trustiest part of their game. They began swarming on defense.
“We were trying to hit home runs and shooting the fireballs from deep, things like that,” center Festus Ezeli said. “We needed to play like ourselves and at the end we started to do what we needed to do.”
Everything the Warriors did, though, came with great effort and struggle. Steph Curry, outplayed by Milwaukee’s Michael Carter-Williams for most of the night, did enough in the second half to achieve narrow decision in the battle of point guards.
Curry finished just short of a triple-double: 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Green was right with him, posting 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
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And, with starting center Andrew Bogut leaving early with a back sprain, Ezeli answered the call, outscoring Bucks center Greg Monroe 14-10 – more than neutralizing Milwaukee’s best offensive player.
“People always say that three-point shooting teams can’t win championships and they can’t if they are just trying to outscore people,” Walton said. “The reason we were able to (win a title) last season is because we were tops in the league on defense. We were able to outscore you and shut you down.
“(The Bucks) came out and wanted a piece of the champs and we weren’t fighting back. That’s what happens. You give up 70 points.”
The Warriors gave up 70 in a half because the Bucks shot it well, particularly guards Khris Middleton and Carter-Williams. The Warriors held them to 42 in the second half because Klay Thompson and Curry didn’t let Middleton hurt them.
So the Warriors (26-1) escaped with a victory they had to fight like the devil to earn. The Bucks (10-18) are a team on the rise, but not yet mature enough to make the jump required of a contender.
The Warriors didn’t enjoy this victory nearly as much as they had hoped. They wanted to blow the Bucks off the floor, leaving imprints of championship rings on their foreheads. It didn’t happen, and for that the Bucks deserve credit.