MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Bucks ruined the Golden State Warriors’ perfect start to the 2015-16 NBA season. On Dec. 12, 2015, the Bucks gave the Warriors their first loss of the season after the defending NBA champions had won their first 24 games. The 24-1 shirts printed by the organization for the in-arena cheering section proved prophetic.
Since that moment, the Bucks have been a team the Warriors struggle against.
Well, sort of. It’s complicated with the Warriors. The Bucks have defeated the Warriors just that one time in the last three and a half years, as the Warriors have established themselves as one of the best teams of all-time.
No team has reached even the .500 mark in games against the Warriors cine the 2014-15 season. The only teams that come close are the San Antonio Spurs, who have compiled a 5-6 record, and the Boston Celtics, who are 3-4. Every other team in the league has a .308 winning percentage or worse against the Warriors.
With one win in six tries, the Bucks are one of six teams tied with a .167 winning percentage over the last three and a half seasons against the Warriors, the ninth-best mark league-wide. And with a -7.7 scoring margin against the Warriors in that same time, the Bucks actually have done sixth-best. So, maybe the Bucks do have something on the Warriors.
“We just respect them a lot,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We know that they're the best team. Whenever we play against them, we're excited and scared at the same time because we know at any point in the game, they can embarrass us, so we go out there and play hard.”
Every team plays hard against the Warriors though. That isn’t something unique in Milwaukee. The defending champs walk into every arena with a target on their backs. The Bucks must be doing something different to give themselves a chance each time they see the Warriors.
“I think we just match up well against them,” Khris Middleton said. “Our size, our length kind of bothers them to some extent. We're able to switch right with them and not really have any mismatches out there on the court. That's one thing they do against other teams.
“They're able to switch and whether teams switch against them, or don't want to switch, they find those mismatches. That's one thing we've done a great job with in the past.”
In the Bucks’ three closest outcomes against the Warriors in the last three years, the Warriors have shot a worse percentage from three than their season average. It may not be dumb luck either, as they took fewer attempts than their average from deep in two of those games as well. So, Middleton may be onto something with the Bucks' ability to switch across a number of positions.
Switching the Warriors’ action can be effective because they are unlike most NBA teams. With a high number of screens and split cuts, the Warriors’ motion-heavy offense may be more prone to switching than a team like the Rockets, who will put a switch into isolation in an effort to exploit the mismatch to the fullest. Antetokounmpo added that the Bucks tend to be more physical than normal against the Warriors, which can be helpful has tagging and switching assignments between teammates.
“We're playing against the champs and when you play against the champs, you have to show up and give the best effort you can,” Antetokounmpo said.
Will it be enough? The odds say no, but the Bucks have the Warriors’ number, right?