SAN FRANCISCO – The Warriors, from top to bottom, had but one request of themselves on Saturday. Defend from the opening tip to their fullest physical and mental capacity.
If they could do that, Stephen Curry might have an opportunity to cook. In which case they could send their three-game losing streak straight to the grave.
What they could not have known is that Steph would cook so splendidly on offense and provide the defensive play of the game.
Curry offset a quiet first half with an extraordinary second half, lifting the Warriors to a 125-116 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks – who entered Chase Center with the best record in the NBA.
“He took matters into his own hands,” Draymond Green said.
“He hit a three on the wing and that was the beginning of the onslaught. It was very impressive, the way he willed us. He hit shot after shot. And it wasn’t like many people were creating for him. He was creating to himself and getting to the shots that he wanted.”
Curry scored a game-high 36 points, 29 of which came in the second half, including an overtime in which he personally outscored Milwaukee 9-5 to send the Bucks into the night with their second loss since Jan. 21.
“Steph was incredible, and he did against one of the great defenders in the league in Jrue Holiday,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Jrue is an amazing player, so strong and quick and just never quits on any possession. It’s amazing watching those two guys battle.
“But Steph is fearless. It doesn’t matter if there’s a slow start or if he hasn’t had much going. He can ignite at any time.”
Holiday, who scored 18 points, including a go-ahead 30-foot 3-ball with 32.7 seconds left in regulation, had a chance to win the game on the next possession. With the score 111-111, he swooped past Donte DiVincenzo on the left side of the key and darted toward the rim for a layup that barely left his fingertips when Curry rotated over to block it with 2.9 seconds remaining.
Overtime it would be, and the Warriors dominated, outscoring the Bucks 14-5 in the five-minute session.
“The verticality at the rim, pretty impressive,” Kerr said of Curry’s block, which punctuated Golden State’s 11-3 closing run to wipe out an eight-point deficit inside the final two minutes of regulation.
“The biggest play of the game,” DiVincenzo said. “Steph coming over, Jrue gets downhill, and Steph saves me and he saves the game.”
Curry was proud of his 16th block of the season, not so much because of the effort but because of the moment.
“The read and the timing was perfect,” he said. “There was no more time to score. Jrue had a full head of steam coming downhill, I left my man in the corner open hoping Klay (Thompson) would cover. Just made the right read.
“That’s all basketball is. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. But with the energy of the crowd and the run that we went on down the stretch and contributing on both ends, it was a fun way to end regulation.”
Curry’s defensive gem fit seamlessly into the theme of the evening. The Warriors, coming off three road games in which their defense barely existed, made an early impression by holding the Bucks to 41.7-percent shooting in the first quarter – Golden State’s first opening-quarter win since Feb. 11 – and 34.7 percent in the first half.
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Milwaukee finished at 43 percent, besting the Warriors’ 41.1 percent. But Golden State managed 12 more field-goal attempts mostly due to a rebounding frenzy that generated a 65-48 edge over the best rebounding team in the NBA.
“We competed the entire time,” Kerr said. “Our defense was pretty solid. They made some tough shots; hell, they made 21 threes. But we didn't foul them. They turned it over more than we did. I thought we were really solid for most of the night. We had a few slip-ups defensively and a few miscommunications, but for the most part, that's the way we have to play.”
That’s also the way Curry played. Locked in, with feral intensity, his body language and production were insistent on triumph. On this night, against a championship contender, the formula worked well enough to deliver cathartic victory.
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