The Golden State Warriors — sans Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Chris Paul, Gary Payton II, and Moses Moody — gave the full-strength Milwaukee Bucks a good fight. But in the end, superior talent and fresher legs won out.
A loss is a loss. The sting is magnified when you consider that it’s their 21st of the season out of 39 games. That doesn’t help their situation when it comes to getting closer toward a play-in spot, let alone an outright playoff seed. There were moments within the game that could’ve easily went in their favor, if not for a couple of unfortunate bounces of the ball, good looks that didn’t go in, and other missed opportunities.
But even with the odds stacked against them, the Warriors played to win. They did their homework — the Bucks’ transition troubles on defense were singled out and attacked with pace. Their knack for changing base defensive coverages — dependent on personnel — gave the Warriors something to work with. The motor, effort, and connectedness that weren’t there were largely present.
The headiness of the youth — particularly from their rookies — stood out. The maturity level in terms of poise and audacity has always been there, but the awareness and intelligence in terms of which coverages are being played and knowing how to attack them are rare in such young players.
A snippet from Brandin Podziemski — who finished 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting (7-of-9 on twos, 3-of-5 on threes), 10 rebounds, and three assists — during halftime revealed the team’s approach against shifting coverages:
One of the key quotes from Podziemski: “(Brook) Lopez was sitting in the paint in a deep drop.”
It’s no secret that the Bucks do prefer to play deep drop coverage with Lopez — a premier rim protector — on the floor, dating back to the Mike Budenholzer era and continuing during Adrian Griffin’s first season at the helm. The pros and cons of drop coverage have been extensively documented, the main con being its weakness against elite pull-up shooters.
With Curry out due to rest, it was up to Klay Thompson to take advantage of Lopez in deep drop. That mindset was proven to be correct on this early offensive possession:
On “Chicago” action (a wide pindown into a dribble handoff) out of “Delay” action (a 5-out formation with a trailing big handling the ball up top), the Warriors immediately test Lopez’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone. When Thompson’s defender gets caught up in the Kevon Looney screen, Lopez hesitates to commit but eventually tries to close space. But it’s too little, too late: Thompson has all the breathing room he needs to drill the three in front of Lopez.
While Thompson did whatever he could to take advantage of the Bucks’ drop coverage, a poor shooting night (21 points on 7-of-23 shooting — 1-of-6 on twos, 6-of-17 on threes) failed to provide him with any sort of consistent rhythm. But those shots that did hit their mark against Lopez readily revealed what deep drop coverage was willing to give up in exchange for two-on-two basketball:
The other notable phrase from Podziemski’s interview above: “When (Lopez) is off the floor and they’re blitzing the ballscreens, (we’re) just getting off it early and playing 4-on-3. It’s allowed us to get easy buckets.”
With Lopez off the floor and Bobby Portis on as the five-man, the Bucks changed their ballscreen coverage: hedging out against ballhandlers. It was poetic, then, that it was Podziemski who took advantage of what he called “playing 4-on-3”:
Being able to recognize what to do against such coverages goes a long way toward surviving — and thriving — in the NBA. Podziemski is clearly learning from his veterans; Curry and Draymond Green have extensive knowledge and experience in terms of how to attack aggressive coverages. Podziemski and his fellow rookie in Trayce Jackson-Davis have been sponges, absorbing information the Warriors are then squeezing out of them, to productive results.
It was a win for the youth movement tonight. In addition to Podziemski, Jonathan Kuminga tied his career high of 28 points, on an efficient 10-of-18 clip (8-of-15 on twos, 2-of-3 on threes). Jackson-Davis added 12 points and flashed his finishing chops as a dunker-spot resident and roller.
The accelerated pace of learning and maturing is a necessity in NBA, especially on a team that is looking to contend for another title with a core that is aging. Podziemski — along with his other young peers on the team — is being swept in the waves of the win-now movement.
They’re not only hanging on — they’re surfing above the rough waters.