OAKLAND — Draymond Green’s foot picked a heck of a week to turn up bruised and swollen.
Green is on a mission to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year trophy, and his presence regularly elevates the Warriors on that side of the court. But they need him some games more than others, and Thursday was one of those games. The opponent was the ascendant Milwaukee Bucks, who brought an 8-2 record into Oracle Arena. More specifically, the opponent was Giannis Antetokounmpo, the alien life form who plays whatever-position-you-want-to-call-it for the Bucks.
With Antetokounmpo leading the way, the Bucks won 134-111. It was the most points the Warriors had given up at home since March of 2009, when Stephen Curry was still playing at Davidson College and Steve Kerr was the Phoenix Suns’ general manager.
“We have to be focused in order not to foul,” Kerr, now of course the Warriors coach, said after the loss. “The whole thing we teach all the time is that you have to show your hands. If you use your hands in the NBA these days, you’re done. It’s an automatic foul. We had multiple reaches right away.”
You know about Antetokounmpo. They call him the Greek Freak. He’s only 23 years old, and he has crept into the conversation for league MVP. He was only 18 when Milwaukee drafted him in 2013, was considered a huge project. Now he is a unique NBA entity, a 6-foot-11 post player who can handle the ball and runs the floor like a velociraptor, and whose arms seem to elongate before your eyes as he elevates for dunks.
His story is pretty incredible. Raised in a poor neighborhood in Athens, Greece, the son of Nigerian immigrants. Drafted as a 6-9 small forward who weighed less than 200 pounds. Averaged 6.8 points a game as a rookie. Now he’s an almost-7-footer with a 7-3 wing span who averages 25.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists for one of the NBA’s best young teams.
NBA.com posted a video that showed Antetokounmpo covering what it estimated to be 57.6 feet with two dribbles and two long steps to the basket. Seriously. He is molten.
The Warriors no doubt respect Antetokounmpo, but they weren’t particularly interested in the Freak Phenomenon on Thursday. They were concerned with getting bodies on him and preventing easy baskets. No single Warrior would be given responsibility for stopping him; that’s too demanding of one man. Getting a hand in Antetokounmpo’s face mostly fell to a couple of Golden State’s young bigs, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney.
Bell made his first start of the season in place of Green. “One thing I didn’t want to do is get (Kevin Durant) in foul trouble,” Kerr said. “I thought it made sense to give JB a chance at Giannis.”
It went about as poorly as you might have imagined. Bell picked up his second foul, both while guarding Antetokounmpo, 4 minutes and 46 seconds into the game and retired to the bench for the rest of the half.
“I thought I started the whole fouling thing just by getting two quick ones, unnecessary fouls,” Bell said. “He’s definitely tough to guard. I thought we did a good job of slowing him down, though. Well, Loon did a good job of slowing him down.”