Du­rant out­plays Mil­wau­kee’s ris­ing su­per­star

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRIDAY NIGHT’S WARRIORS GAME - By Con­nor Le­tourneau Con­nor Le­tourneau is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: cle­tourneau@sfchron­i­cle. com Twitter: @Con_Chron

MIL­WAU­KEE — The sim­i­lar­i­ties are ob­vi­ous: They’re both elite-scor­ing for­wards with freak­ish wing­spans, mod­est dis­po­si­tions and global pop­u­lar­ity.

How­ever, that may be where the parallels be­tween Kevin Du­rant and Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo stop. The two don’t just have con­trast­ing play­ing styles. In lead­ing the War­riors to a 108-94 win Fri­day night over the Bucks at the Bradley Cen­ter, Du­rant showed why he is still the more com­plete player.

With War­riors point guard Stephen Curry again side­lined by a sprained right an­kle, Du­rant posted a game-high 26 points on 12-for-20 shoot­ing with six re­bounds, six as­sists and two steals. His de­fense helped an­chor a group that held the Bucks to 36-for-85 (42.4 per­cent) shoot­ing, in­clud­ing 5-for-20 (25 per­cent) in the fourth quar­ter.

Though An­te­tok­oun­mpo (23 points, seven re­bounds, four as­sists, one block) stuffed the stat sheet, he was ham­pered by foul trou­ble. Golden State outscored Mil­wau­kee by 15 points in the 36 min­utes he spent on the floor.

“Hav­ing a guy like that who ups your level of play def­i­nitely helps you as a bas­ket­ball player,” Du­rant said. “I ap­pre­ci­ate times like this.”

Much of the past two weeks, the War­riors’ po­tent of­fense has largely over­shad­owed a lag­ging de­fense. The team touched down in Mil­wau­kee hav­ing sur­ren­dered an av­er­age of 118 points over its pre­vi­ous six games. But with the game hang­ing in the balance late Fri­day, Golden State strung to­gether enough stops to ex­or­cise the mem­ory of Wed­nes­day’s 125-106 loss to the Clip­pers.

Af­ter let­ting the Bucks within 94-90 with 3:11 left, the War­riors closed the game on a 14-4 run. Du­rant drilled two jumpers — an 18-footer with 2:49 re­main­ing, then a 27-foot three-pointer 30 sec­onds later — to send fans fil­ing to­ward the ex­its. Dray­mond Green (21 points, 10 re­bounds, seven as­sists) flirted with a triple­dou­ble on a night Golden State shot 55 per­cent from the field.

“Our de­fense was great for three of the four quar­ters,” War­riors head coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s the thing with play­ing a switch-heavy de­fense. You have to stay ag­gres­sive, and there is a ten­dency to be­come a lit­tle pas­sive and get caught off guard.”

Du­rant’s affin­ity for An­te­tok­oun­mpo is well chron­i­cled. In a YouTube com­ment last sum­mer, Du­rant wrote that it is “guar­an­teed” An­te­tok­oun­mpo will win an MVP some­day. In Oc­to­ber, dur­ing a Q&A on his of­fi­cial YouTube chan­nel, Du­rant said that An­te­tok­oun­mpo “could end up be­ing the best player to ever play if he re­ally wanted to. That’s pretty scary to think about. He’s by far my fa­vorite player to watch.”

It was Du­rant’s way of em­pow­er­ing the NBA’s next big su­per­star. Now in his 11th sea­son of a sure­fire Hall-ofFame ca­reer, he wants to make sure the league will be in good care once he re­tires. In the mean­time, how­ever, Du­rant isn’t above school­ing An­te­tok­oun­mpo when pre­sented the op­por­tu­nity.

Mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter, Du­rant saw An­te­tok­oun­mpo over-guard­ing him along the perime­ter. Du­rant stopped, laced the ball through his legs and drib­bled hard to his right, send­ing An­te­tok­oun­mpo soar­ing, be­fore he knifed down the base­line for a one-handed dunk.

Per­haps most startling was that Mil­wau­kee, which leans on An­te­tok­oun­mpo as much as any fran­chise re­lies on a sin­gle player, was at its best af­ter An­te­tok­oun­mpo headed to the bench with his fourth foul mid­way through the third quar­ter. Feast­ing on a mix of drives and wide-open three­p­oint­ers, the Bucks closed the pe­riod on a 17-7 run to seize an 82-80 lead.

With less than five min­utes left and the War­riors up 92-86, Mil­wau­kee head coach Ja­son Kidd kept An­te­tok­oun­mpo in af­ter he was whis­tled for his fifth foul. Mo­ments later, when he drilled a sky hook, a chant rained down from be­hind the Bucks’ bas­ket: “MV-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”

It was Du­rant, how­ever, who added an­other bul­let point to his bur­geon­ing MVP can­di­dacy. With Curry out the past two games, Du­rant has needed only 38 shots to score 66 points. Now, with the rough end of a back-to-back set loom­ing Satur­day in Toronto, Curry ap­pears poised to re­turn.

“I’m sure KD loves Gian­nis’ game, but at the same time, when they’re com­par­ing you, you want to make sure ev­ery­one knows who’s who,” said cen­ter Zaza Pachu­lia, who was with the Bucks for An­te­tok­oun­mpo’s first two sea­sons. “That’s how I look at it from the out­side. KD did a great job today.”

Stacy Re­vere / Getty Im­ages

Kevin Du­rant cel­e­brates a three-point shot by Dray­mond Green dur­ing the sec­ond half of the War­riors’ game against the Bucks.

Morry Gash / As­so­ci­ated Press

Green slams home two of his 21 points, in a game in which he came up three as­sists shy of an­other triple-dou­ble.

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