The road trip was a three-game disaster. But at home, with no Giannis Antetokounmpo? That’ll do.
That makes it sound a lot easier than it was. This was a skin-of-your-teeth win courtesy of some late Stephen Curry magic and perseverance.
It was a 125-116 overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks that pushes Golden State a couple games over .500 at a time when they continue to hang perilously close to the play-in area of the Western Conference standings.
A loss would have dropped from the fifth seed a couple days ago into a tie for the eighth seed. Instead, the win keeps them in the sixth seed, and out of the depths of the playoff picture, for the moment.
A rough start in the backcourt, but Curry went scorched earth when it mattered
It’s hard for the Warriors to win games when their two ball-dominant players can’t put the ball in the basket with any level of efficiency.
That was glaring against Milwaukee. Curry, at one point in the fourth quarter, was 5-for-17. After a layup that tied the game, the Bucks hit a three, then he had a terrible turnover that made a three-point deficit a six-point deficit. It seemed like the game was going to get away with Golden State.
With Poole playing hard-to-watch basketball too, well, it was not a dynamic combination. He found his way to the bench in the waning minutes, as has happened far too often for a man about to make $32 million a year the next four seasons.
He’s an aggravating player so often, slipping and falling all over the floor with little defensive acumen and not enough strength to make him a consistent threat when driving.
On Saturday, Poole had 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting (2-of-5 from deep) with 2 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and 4 turnovers.
Curry had just seven points, and was 3-of-10 (1-of-5 from deep) in the first half.
He turned the ball over five times and was frustrated. Klay Thompson seemed to overcompensate a bit to match the Bucks’ physicality and picked up an early three fouls that made things tough for an extended stretch.
So much of that early frustration can be owed to Jrue Holiday and a concerted Bucks defensive effort.
But when it really mattered, Curry was cutthroat.
In the second half and overtime, he was 10-of-17 and 5-of-10 from three with 29 points.
And while Holiday bothered him all game long, he got recompense in the final seconds, coming up with a jaw-dropping, expletive-inducing, game-saving block of Holiday driving to the rim.
Golden State got the ball back with 1.9 seconds left on the clock for a wide open Draymond Green three. It rattled in and out. Curry was open, but it was a nifty design to get an open shot for Green.
The Warriors were 1-3 in overtime this season and 2-15 in their last 17 overtime games, per Anthony Slater.
Curry made sure that did not continue, with a little help from Klay Thompson (22 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 4-of-9 from three, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal), who made a couple overtime buckets and grabbed a couple rebounds.
All Curry did was come up clutch in those final minutes of the fourth and overtime. He had 11 points in the final two minutes of the fourth and 9 points in overtime. He finished with 36 points (13-of-27, 6-of-15 from three) 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 5 turnovers. It was as clutch as it gets late.
Draymond picks up an ankle injury, but battles
Draymond wasn’t quite at his best, but he wasn’t far from it. He pushed the pace in the first half, played solid defense and facilitated, executing a couple of those pass-into-immediate-screens that resulted in a few easy threes at the start of the third quarter.
He was under control, not turning the ball over often in an offense that has been and was chaotic. His 5 points (2-of-10, 1-of-4 on backpack threes), 13 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 turnovers failed to bely his impact.
Then he twisted an ankle and went immediately into the locker room. He was relieved by JaMychal Green, who immediately hit a three to put the Warriors up 13.
It was a pretty worrisome limp that he exited the game with. Golden State deemed it a right ankle sprain.
But with 38.7 secs left in the third quarter, he checked back in, the Warriors leading at that point by just three. He immediately boxed out Bobby Portis for a rebound and threw up a prayer of a floater that JaMychal Green tipped in on the other end.
He struggled a bit when he came back in, but it’s evident that without him, Golden State gets out of sync, especially on the defensive end. He often helps bring out the best Jordan Poole, who was, for the most part, at his worst on Saturday.
If his injury costs him any time, the Warriors will be in brutal shape, especially on the road… where they’ve been horrific this season. JaMychal Green was a better version of his usual self and will need to be if Draymond misses any time, but his defensive capabilities are frustrating.
That said, Draymond has shown he’s capable and willing of battling through knocks this season, and his performance after the injury was very encouraging.
That Bucks defense, and a nice JaMychal Green game
Pointing out a good JaMychal Green game typifies where the Warriors are at right now. Their front court, aside from Kevon Looney, doesn’t really exist.
When JaMychal Green has a good game, like he had on Saturday, it’s not just a novelty, but often a sign that something has has gone waywardly, perhaps disastrously wrong. That was almost the case.
He had an efficient 18 points (7-of-10 and 4-of-6 from three) with 6 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block.
While his scoring and rebounding were valuable, he’s not exactly causing fear in the paint. He and Looney — who is perpetually outstanding — can barely elevate off the floor. That’s the Warriors’ rim protection.
It was glaring on Saturday that a player like Brook Lopez can cause serious problems. He had five blocks, though one of them should’ve counted as a Looney score, with Lopez blocking it after it hit the backboard. One of them was a — if not for a turnover from Klay Thompson-hounded Jrue Holiday — a would-be game winner on a free Jordan Poole drive to the hoop.
Even excluding that one, his presence was felt on drives. He was the interior lynchpin of a Milwaukee defense that hounded the Warriors’ guards. Much of that, obviously, has to be owed to Jrue Holiday, who is perhaps the most under-appreciated player and best on-ball defender in the NBA.
He was inefficient shooting (7-of-22, 4-of-11 from deep), but had 18 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, a steal, a block, 6 turnovers, and pressed the Warriors shooters unrelentingly. He hit a three with 31.7 seconds left that gave the Bucks a three-point lead and halted an 8-0 Warriors run. It looked like he ran out of gas late, while Curry ascended, but his performance on defense was outstanding.
And he’s not alone. Milwuakee has size and switching capability that, even without Antetoukounmpo in the lineup, is extremely tough to break down. Khris Middleton, Joe Ingles, Pat Connaughton are all proactive and tied together on that end.
Without athletic cutters and space-creators like Wiggins, Kuminga and Payton II, Golden State can be brutally one-dimensional at times. If not for Curry’s heroics, this would’ve been a bad loss.