The 73-win 2015- 2016 Golden State Warriors team was truly a unique and magical team never before seen in the annals of NBA lore. Although the Cavs were the ones to crush the Dubs’ ambitions at history cruelly, a lessor villain was the lowly, lottery-bound Bucks who ended the Warrior’s 24-0 start and dreams of smashing the Lakers’ record for longest winning streak. While a shot at revenge against Cleveland will have to wait, the Dubs did have an opportunity to right at least one wrong from last year in Milwaukee on Saturday night.
The Bradley Center usually is filled with empty seats for the historically underwhelming Bucks, except against teams with a popular draw, such as the nearby Bulls. The Dubs certainly qualify as such a team. Plenty of fans were geared in blue and yellow and cheered voraciously for the flashy Warriors (although, as the Bucks P.R. staff cleverly pointed out, these fans weren’t around just a few years ago).
Milwaukee is in a rebuilding cycle and probably won’t be playoff bound this year, but they still have enough interesting pieces to pull off a surprise upset occasionally. Giannis Antetokounmpo, AKA “the Greek Freak,” has a long wing span and stride and often excites home fans with thundering slam dunks. Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton also offer a reason for the Bucks to be optimistic about owning the future, although Middleton is out for quite a while with a torn hamstring.
The dubs are a team that requires little introduction. The west coast’s nouveau riche superteam got even richer with the addition of Kevin Durant, although a season-opening blowout dud of a loss to San Antonio quickly ended any talk of a record streak. Last year the Dubs had convenient excuses of coming off a double-overtime game against Boston and being in the last game of a seven-game road swing, which no NBA team has ever swept through. With no such inhibitions in this year’s matchup, it figured to be a fairly one-sided affair. But the stubborn Bucks had other ideas.
Behind Antetokounmpo’s and Parker’s combined 58 points and Steph Curry’s unusually cold 1-for-11 three-point shooting, the outcome still wasn’t decided heading into the final minute. Were it not for Durant’s typically strong contribution of 33 points on 10/17 shooting, the game conceivably could have been a repeat of last year’s Bucks rout. With the shot clock off, the Bucks grabbed a defensive rebound and called timeout. Down two, coach Jason Kidd had the ability to diagram a play to tie or win the game. He managed to do so brilliantly the last time the Bucks made the playoffs, resulting in a thrilling buzzer-bearing win against the Bulls.
Fans of both teams rose to their feet to see what was sure to be a memorable conclusion to the Dub’s one-time shot at redemption. But unfortunately the Bucks, ever since the 2003 Ray Allen Trade, seem to be a snake-bitten franchise. Their shot at repeating their memorable feat ended with a yawn when the inbounds pass was stolen away, leading to two clinching free throws by Klay Thompson.
While Bucks fans will rue the opportunity that got away, the Warriors will move on to bigger and grander aspirations. With the Clippers off to a 12-2 start, the dubs have an unexpected challenger in the race for the top seed in the West. The West playoffs figure to be its usual grind, and potentially an appetizing rematch with the Cavs will conclude the 2017 campaign. But in Golden State’s season-long quest for redemption, one demon from last year has officially been exorcised.
True, Bucks fans’ “24-1” shirts will remain in circulation for years to come. But Saturday night, all fans could agree: the best team won.