Bucks’ Steph Curry strategy backfires in best way for Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO — This wasn’t the first time the Milwaukee Bucks saw Klay Thompson this season. It was, however, the first time they saw this version of Clay in a long time.

“You know, obviously we haven’t seen him in a while due to his injury,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said Saturday night after the Warriors beat his Bucks, 122-109 at Chase Center. “It’s almost like we kind of forgot who he is, you know.”

The five-time NBA All-Star gave the Bucks and everybody else around the league a strong reminder of just how great he is, and how hot he can get in a hurry. Thompson scored only four points in the first quarter and missed both his 3-point attempts. The second quarter was a whole new ballgame.

Vintage Klay showed up for a Saturday night in San Francisco, giving the home fans every reason to get louder and louder with each 3-pointer that splashed through the home nets.

Thompson totaled 17 points in the second quarter. He made five straight shots to open the quarter, including four straight 3-pointers, went 5-for-6 from deep and the only shot he missed was a running jumper. That gave him 21 points for the half. The Warriors came into the night a perfect 6-0 when Thompson scored at least 20 points this season.

They’re now 7-0 when he hits that number since completing his comeback.

“Once Klay kind of gets hot, there’s really not much you can do,” Bucks defensive star Jrue Holiday said.

Klay wasn’t done once he went to the locker room at halftime. He came out and scored 17 more points in the second half, giving him 38 points for the night. That gave him a new season-high and his most points since scoring 39 on March 8, 2019.

The Bucks of course didn’t plan on Klay scorching them all over the court. As Giannis pointed out, perhaps they didn’t put enough emphasis on this Splash Brother. Thompson put up just 11 points in a 19-point loss the last time the Warriors played the Bucks and was averaging only 15.3 points while shooting 34.2 percent from the field and 23.3 percent on 3-pointers in his last four games, following a two- game absence from an undisclosed illness.

In reality, coach Mike Budenholzer laid out the Bucks’ defensive plan an hour and a half before tip-off. It partly worked, with the rest blowing up in his face.

“We’re no different, we’re going to throw the kitchen sink and everything we got at him,” Budenholzer said when asked about defending Steph Curry.

Well, Curry only scored a season-low eight points. It was only the second time he was held to single digits this season, and his eight points were his fewest since scoring only seven on April 4, 2019, and then five on April 9 of that 2018-19 season.

Steph also dished eight assists, grabbed five rebounds and was a plus-14. His scoring impact was minimized, there’s no doubt about that. But the Bucks face-guarding him and putting all their eggs in a basket that held Curry to only three buckets opened the floor for his teammates.

And they stepped up.

Thompson wasn’t alone there, too.

Steve Kerr started Jordan Poole with Curry and Thompson for the first time this season, and Poole did what he has done ever since the Warriors’ loss to the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month. The 22-year-old scored 30 points, his seventh 30-point performance of the season and second in his last four games, and was a plus-26. He now has scored at least 20 points in six straight games and is averaging 23 points per game in March.

“It’s absolutely amazing for the MVP of the league to kind of just sacrifice some of his shots, and to get the other players going against a really good team is huge,” Poole said of Curry. “It just shows how dangerous we are.

“It’s gonna be really hard to just try to stop Steph. We’re just gonna play off him and continue to play our game, and hopefully, it works out.”

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For the Warriors, in their third straight win, it certainly did work. Not just because of Poole being a step Splash Brother. Also because of Andrew Wiggins having his best game in over a month and Jonathan Kuminga continuing to be a spark off the bench.

Kuminga recorded the second double-double of his rookie year, scoring 14 points to go with a career-high 11 rebounds. An aggressive Wiggins scored 21 points while going 8-for-16 from the field and 3-for-8 from long distance, to go with six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. His big night was a sense of relief for everyone involved with the Warriors, especially Wiggins himself.

This was his first 20-point performance since Jan. 31, and he also made both of his free throw attempts after entering the game going 2-for-9 from the charity stripe this month, including six straight misses.

The foursome of Thompson, Poole, Wiggins and Kuminga combined for 103 of the Warriors’ 122 points and shot 52.8 percent (38-for-72) from the field — all while Steph scored only eight points.

“Man, this team is dangerous,” Wiggins said. “We got a lot of guys, a lot of weapons that can go out there and do a lot of good stuff.”

Budenholzer and the Bucks aren’t the first team to “throw the kitchen sink” at Curry and they won’t be the last. If the rest of the Warriors go cold, the strategy will pay off. But Saturday night showed just how great Golden State can be when teams leave the rest of the Warriors open.

Just imagine when they’re at full strength. Soon, that finally can be a reality for the Warriors.

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