Durant outplays Milwaukee’s rising superstar
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.”
Kevin Durant celebrates a three-point shot by Draymond Green during the second half of the Warriors’ game against the Bucks.
Green slams home two of his 21 points, in a game in which he came up three assists shy of another triple-double.