OAKLAND – The legitimacy of the Milwaukee Bucks as genuine contenders in the Eastern Conference is gaining steam, as they made one almighty statement against the Golden State Warriors on Friday morning.
The atmosphere inside the Oracle Arena was at its typical fever pitch, with the home crowd expecting another easy win for the league's dominant force. The two-time defending champions had started the season in typical fashion, going 10-1 record with their only loss coming by two points to the Denver Nuggets.
The jovial crowd were left stunned this night, as the Bucks made a significant statement to the rest of the league, dominating the Warriors 134-109.
Speaking after their loss in Portland two nights earlier, Thon Maker acknowledged the challenge that faced the Bucks, who had breezed through the season's opening weeks.
“It’s just a matter of watching film,” Maker said. “We’ll move on from tonight and focus on Golden State. There was a lot of things we did right and we believe the things that went wrong can be corrected.”
Despite missing Draymond Green (foot), the Warriors still boasted three perennial All-Stars in their starting line-up, and Mike Budenholzer was well aware of the task facing his squad.
“All three of them, Durant, Thompson and Curry, anytime they shoot they are a huge threat,” Budenholzer said. “They’re going to be the best in the mid-range, the best behind the 3-point line so we just want to make as many of their looks tough as possible. We’ll be up for it I think.”
The Bucks suffocated the Warriors shooters into a rare state of discomfort, and relentlessly attacked the Green-less Golden State defence on the other end.
The audience grew restless with every missed shot, and the Bucks had quietly built a 13-point lead by the main break. A trademark run from the champs was expected, and when a quick 5-0 run happened, the Bucks would have been forgiven for feeling a little jittery. Instead, they made a game-sealing 32-17 run, extending the lead to 26 points in front of a shell-shocked home crowd.
By the 6:44 mark of the fourth, Warriors fans piled towards the exits, which wasn't an unusual phenomenon. Unlike the norm, they were the team on the wrong end of the beat down.
With the game well in hand, Budenholzer cleared his bench, giving Matthew Dellavedova and Maker time to work back into a rhythm. Maker was able to make the most of his time on court, tallying eight points.
Highlighting the Aussie cameo was a nice catch-and-finish on a Dellavedova lob (also known as the Aussie Connect), highlighting the chemistry between the two Boomers. Maker smiled postgame when The Pick and Roll asked him about the play.
“It was the Aussie connection getting it done!”
Maker was also asked about the major boost in defensive intensity he had previously described as correctable.
“Exactly!” Maker said. “That’s what I was talking about. The guys just brought that energy tonight. The communication was better, even on the bench we were standing and talking, and the guys on the court did a great job bringing that extra energy and just being alert.”
But what brings that sudden surge in defensive intensity? Is it the loss against Portland? Or is it the team rising to the challenge of playing Golden State?
“It’s a combination of all those things,” Dellavedova shared. “Obviously you come and play Golden State, the two-time champs, and if you want to win [a title] then you have to beat them. So it was a good test for us, but it’s only the regular season. We weren’t happy coming off our loss, we weren’t happy with how we played. We knew we didn’t play our best, so it was a good way to respond.”
The feeling inside the locker room wasn’t one of a team that seemed shocked about what had transpired. The smiles were evident, but not in an over-the-top way, as it remains clear they know the job on this road trip is only half complete.
An afternoon game with the Los Angeles Clippers is just 36 hours away, but perhaps they can enjoy this one for a little bit - on the bus ride back to the hotel, if nothing else.
“This is a tough place to win, especially on the road, so you’ve got to be happy about that,” Dellavedova said with a smile.
The Milwaukee Bucks now travel to LA to take on the Clippers on Sunday morning. Tip-off is at 7:30am AEST.