Steph Curry lighting it up on a Saturday night in primetime while Mike Breen delivers an emphatic “Bang!” as the background chorus is a familiar scene. Curry is only four games into his latest comeback from his second major injury of the season, but the Milwaukee Bucks presented a litmus test for the Golden State Warriors at home. The Bucks have been the best team in basketball since Jan. 23, and the Golden State required a measuring stick to compare their progress to.
In his postgame presser following their 125-116 win, Steve Kerr complimented Golden State for how they closed by explaining that they’d demonstrated “championship stuff.” That phrase is a common refrain from anyone on the roster or coaching staff anytime Golden State delivers a big win. It’s akin to Bugs Bunny’s “secret stuff” Space Jam placebo. However, at this juncture in the season, it’s getting harder to believe those words for anything except motivational gobbledygook. Overall, Golden State still executes like a borderline honor roll receiving valedictorian hype.
Steph Curry hides all the Warriors’ warts
Saturday’s win kept Golden State from plummeting off the cliff, but Curry is a master illusionist, hiding the Warriors’ warts. For one, the road is their fatal flaw. At home, where they are 28-7, the Warriors can take care of business. On the road, they’re 7-26. The 67 percent split between their home winning percentage (80 percent) and away (21.2 percent) would still be the second-worst in league history.
Curry’s solar flare led to 11 points in the final 1:51 that overwhelmed the Bucks in crunchtime and sent the contest into overtime. It could have ended earlier if Draymond Green had an extra half-second to whip a pass to Curry on the wing instead of firing the potential game-winning shot himself. And in overtime, Curry fed off the crowd’s energy to deliver the coup de grâce.
Donte DiVincenzo loves playing against the team that drafted him, averaging 18.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in two clashes against the Bucks this season, but he can’t be relied upon on the road. Additionally, Andrew Wiggins’ month-long absence for undisclosed personal reasons is another hurdle for Golden State and it doesn’t appear he’s on the fast track either.
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And yet, Saturday’s win put the Warriors just 2.5 games back of a top-four seed. However, needing overtime to beat the East-leading Bucks (who weren’t even suiting up a two-time MVP) casts a cloud around the win.
Just two nights earlier, Golden State lost their third in a row to a Memphis Grizzlies team that’s been spiraling without Ja Morant in the lineup. On Saturday, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence loomed just as large. Milwaukee has been fortunate to face the Nets and Magic in their first two games while Antetokounmpo rested a “sore hand,” but those two squads were light work.
Can Golden State go the distance this season?
A statement victory over the Giannis-less Bucks would have been a comfortable, runaway victory. Instead, Golden State had to count on Milwaukee to squander the lead away. After Jrue Holiday lost his dribble with 27 seconds remaining in regulation and the Bucks ahead by three, Curry took advantage of the opportunity to knot it up at 111 with a triple. On the Bucks’ final possession of the fourth quarter, Curry provided textbook help defense, beating Holiday to the spot as he drove into the paint, leaping straight up with his arms outstretched to swat Holiday’s potential game-winning floater.
In overtime, the Bucks finally ran out of gas, but it was a victory that exemplifies the strength of Milwaukee’s supporting cast.
It’s one thing for Golden State to be off their peak in December, but it’s another for them to still be tinkering above the .500 threshold as the playoffs near. Milwaukee was a win they needed to remain out of a dangerous play-in tournament scenario, but final exams are nearing and Golden State is still sitting on the pass-fail fence.