As is usually the case with a 23-point margin of victory, both teams were responsible: The Bucks were terrific, and the Warriors were awful. But can we learn anything from it?
The prevailing sentiment is that all the teams that match up best with Golden State play in the Eastern Conference. It's November, but the Bucks increasingly look like a Finals contender. Here are some takeaways from Milwaukee's 134-111 win.
Draymond Green had to sit out this game with a sprained toe, and the Warriors felt his absence in myriad ways - most obviously on defense, where they had to make do without their best option for guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. Durant has the size and quickness to do a suitable job on Antetokounmpo, but the Warriors largely opted to match up with a traditional big, possibly to protect Durant from foul trouble and possibly to keep their slower bigs from having to chase the Bucks' stretch bigs out to the perimeter.
It didn't work. Antetokounmpo penetrated basically at will, burning those bigs off the bounce and using the space they gave him to get rolling downhill.
The Warriors were vaporized at the point of attack, and with Milwaukee playing five-out lineups - and without Green to quarterback the defense or come over with his timely help rotations - the Bucks got whatever they wanted at the rim. They shot 35-of-45 in the restricted area, and finished with 84 points in the paint, adding 21 free throws for good measure. That's how you put up a 127.6 offensive rating despite shooting 9-of-35 from 3-point range.
The Warriors also sorely missed Green at the offensive end, where no Warrior seemed able to connect on their screens, and their guards struggled mightily to create separation as the Bucks loaded up on them. Green is one of the league's best release valves, alleviating pressure on Steph Curry and Durant with his heady and decisive playmaking. Without Green to keep possessions flowing, the Warriors frequently stalled out and devolved into isolations. Against the Bucks' army of long and physical defenders, they couldn't create many one-on-one mismatches. They wound up working pretty hard just to get semi-contested jumpers.
Without Green, the Warriors also lost their ability to downsize for big minutes and run the likes of Brook Lopez and John Henson off the floor. Instead, they opted to run two-big lineups with some combination of Damian Jones, Jordan Bell, Jonas Jerebko, and Kevon Looney. None of them were remotely effective.
The Bucks' vaunted defense has shown some troublesome holes, and their points of weakness - namely, giving up a ton of open 3-pointers - figured to be particularly vulnerable against the Warriors. The opposite proved true. The Warriors got just 28 threes up, and only eight of them were taken by the dead-eyed trio of Curry, Durant, and Klay Thompson. Alfonzo McKinnie had more long-range attempts than Curry and Thompson combined.
The Bucks decided they'd live with the Warriors' role players beating them, and they were incredibly disciplined in executing that game plan. They played well off Golden State's non-shooters - and even decent shooters like McKinnie, Jerebko, and Andre Iguodala. The Warriors tried to scramble and befuddle them with off-ball screens and cuts, but Milwaukee stayed home, fighting unnecessary switches and parking Lopez close to the hoop while daring the likes of Jones to hit open shots:
The Bucks also adjusted their pick-and-roll scheme slightly, not dropping their big quite as far back on high screens so they could offer half-decent contests on Curry's pull-up threes.
Even more crucial was Eric Bledsoe's work defending Curry in those actions, either forcing him away from the screen or fighting hard to get over the top and apply pressure from behind.
The Warriors, though, could have put a lot more pressure on the Bucks. They ran Lopez through surprisingly few high pick-and-rolls, failing to make him defend in space or try to play one on two. The rare ball screens they did set were often ineffective. Durant frequently passed up pull-up threes off of high screens in favor of pull-up twos. Curry struggled to turn the corner and get to the rim.
Golden State is used to burying opposing teams with math, but it was the Bucks who owned the numbers game in this one. All but two of their 134 points came from the paint, the free-throw line, or beyond the arc. They attempted just six mid-range jumpers; the Warriors attempted 28.
The Warriors generally didn't work that hard to pull Milwaukee's rim protectors out to the perimeter, and deploying multiple non-playmaking non-shooters at once meant they didn't force the Bucks into many difficult decisions.
The upshot was that the Bucks were able to apply aggressive ball pressure and knock the Warriors out of rhythm without sacrificing much. They played the passing lanes beautifully, and Antetokounmpo was an absolute menace as a help defender. The Bucks gleefully stuck him on whatever offensive non-factor they could in order to unleash him as a turnover-generating rover. Milwaukee's cumulative length made it difficult for the Warriors to thread passes to cutters through the thickets of arms (Golden State had 18 turnovers in the game), and the Bucks turned nearly every live-ball turnover into an open-court bucket at the other end:
Curry was off all game, but he really got exposed defensively. The Bucks targeted him repeatedly, and with their spaced floor disincentivizing double teams, Curry was left on an island. Both Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton abused him, Bledsoe mainly taking him off the dribble while Connaughton took him into the post. Those two combined to score 41 points on 17-of-23 shooting, and they did most of their damage against Curry.
You obviously can't expect Curry to have such anemic offensive showings very often (he scored 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting and went 0-for-4 from long range before leaving with an injury), but the Bucks have a lot of size and physicality in their backcourt, which could continue to make him vulnerable on defense in this matchup.
For one thing, that the Bucks are legit. It's not easy to make the Warriors uncomfortable, and it's clear the Bucks - with their combination of shooting, length, athleticism, activity, and newfound defensive structure - are capable of doing so, regardless of whatever extenuating circumstances were at play.
This one performance, impressive as it was, does not wipe away concerns about their defensive blind spot. In games that matter, the Warriors will have a shorter leash for guys like Jones, Bell, Jerebko, and Looney. They will also be sharper at executing their sets. As much credit as Milwaukee's defense deserves, Golden State's floor balance was totally out of whack on a handful of possessions.