If there was one sure thing in the NBA Friday night, it was that the Milwaukee Bucks were going to get destroyed by the Golden State Warriors.
Six days after the Bucks stunned Golden State in Milwaukee, ending the Warriors’ perfect start, they had to face them again in California. This time, the Warriors were at home, rested and still angry about the Bucks’ victory celebration.
The Milwaukee players went on a tour of Alcatraz on Thursday night as a team bonding exercise, and the jokes started flying. They might as well lock themselves up at “The Rock,” because it was going to be more pleasant that anything that was going to happen to them at Oracle Arena. Or “no one escaped from Alcatraz, and the Bucks aren’t going to escape the Warriors.”
It didn’t happen that way, though. With eight minutes left, the Bucks led 100-89, and appeared to be about to embarrass Golden State for the second time in a week. It didn’t happen – Draymond Green took over the game with a personal 8-0 run, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson finished off the 121-112 victory.
Still, instead of the Warriors gloating at the end, they were frustrated enough that Green got into a shoving match with O.J. Mayo at the buzzer. Golden State is now 26-1, with a road loss to the Bucks and a home scare in the same matchup.
Given Golden State’s anger at the Bucks’ celebration after the first game and the ill-tempered finish to the second, this has the makings of a great rivalry. Unfortunately, while the Warriors will probably be waiting in the NBA Finals next summer, the Bucks probably won’t even make the postseason.
At 10-18, they’re already six games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and have had a very disappointing season when they’re playing anyone other than Golden State.
The best analogy seems to come from boxing in the 1970s. Muhammad Ali was the dominant champion, while Ken Norton was a good-but-not-great contender. If you put Norton in front of a big puncher, he folded like a lawn chair – George Foreman, Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney destroyed him – but he had the perfect style to frustrate Ali. He beat Ali once, breaking his jaw, and lost two razor-tight decisions that could’ve easily gone his way.
The Warriors are obviously Ali, and the Bucks are a version of Norton. Their young, long athleticism hasn’t translated into a lot of wins, but it gives them an advantage over a small Golden State team. The Bucks can contest more three-pointers than most teams, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is able to back smaller defenders into the post. Friday, he scored 20 points, and 18 of them came in the paint.
The Bucks still have serious flaws, and some of them showed up against Golden State. They can’t compete in a shooting duel against anyone, much less the Warriors. Friday, when they needed to make some threes down the stretch to keep up, they couldn’t get anything.
Khris Middleton has the most dependable outside shot on the team, shooting 43 percent on the season, but he went 2-for-9 on Friday. O.J. Mayo was the only other player able to get anything up at all, and he went 0-for-6.
Jabari Parker scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shots, but Jason Kidd had to go with Mayo down the stretch as Parker was constantly getting torched on the defensive end.
It’s certainly not a bad thing to be able to compete with Golden State, but the Bucks won’t reach their high potential until they start putting forward that level of effort every night and fix a couple glaring problems. That’s to be expected for such a young team, but it doesn’t ease the frustration for Milwaukee fans.