Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Stephen Curry leaves game with a groin strain, injuries mount as Bucks blowout Warriors. It’s the one thing most likely to derail the Warriors championship train: Injuries. And they are starting to hit the Warriors. Shaun Livingston remains out with a foot issue, and Andre Iguodala is limited by back and neck issues, for example.
Draymond Green was out Thursday night as the Milwaukee Bucks came to Oracle Arena and that mattered. On defense, they needed him to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo… as much as anyone is going to slow the Greek Freak right now. The Warriors couldn’t and Antetokounmpo dropped Green’s jaw like he was in a Tex Avery cartoon.
Antetokounmpo had 19 points, seven rebounds by the half and finished with 24 points on 16 shots, plus nine boards in a 23-point Bucks win, 134-111. The Warriors also missed Green on offense — he is by far the best screen setter on the Warriors and without him Stephen Curry and others couldn’t find the space they are used to against the length of the Bucks.
Then this happened.
Curry soon left the game with what is officially a strained left adductor, which is the groin muscle to the rest of us. Steve Kerr said there will be an MRI on Friday to figure out the severity. Groin strains (like hamstrings) can linger, and players can think they are healed when they are not, then re-injure them in the heat of competition. Which is to say, this early in the season the Warriors are going to be exceedingly cautious.
For the Bucks, this was a “take us seriously, we are contenders” game. Off to a 9-2 start this season they have the best net rating in the league — besting opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions, with the second-ranked offense and fourth-ranked defense in the league. They have the necessary superstar in the Greek Freak, and now quality talent around him — Eric Bledsoe was a problem for Stephen Curry all night, Kris Middleton is for real, their bigs Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova can space the floor, and the list goes on and on — to be a threat. Mike Budenholzer is using all that talent properly, with floor spacing on offense and a more conservative defense than Jason Kidd ran.
Bottom line, when you talk the best in the East, the Bucks need to be mentioned with Boston and Toronto.
Golden State is still the gold standard in the NBA, the team everyone needs to beat, and a November win does not vault the Bucks past them. The Warriors did not treat this like a playoff game, they did not adjust like they would (in the Finals). But the nagging injuries are catching up with the Warriors, and with Golden State focused on April and beyond — not November — expect them to be slow bringing guys back from injury, and to get other stars rest. The Warriors have been here before, they know how to handle this, but it will cost them some wins as they focus on the long term.
2) Boston comes from 22 down to beat the struggling Suns on the road. Every time I looked in on this game and saw the score with the Celtics down by 15 or 20, I kept saying “the run is going to come.” Except, it never really did, when Devin Booker hit a floater with 3:45 to play in the game the Suns were up 14 (94-80).
That’s when the run came. Which was capped off by former Sun Marcus Morris — the guy bitter at the franchise for splitting up he and his brother — draining a three to tie.
After the game, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said he had instructed the Suns to foul on that final play and force the Celtics to shoot two free throws. They had a chance When Morris first had the ball 35 feet out with his back to the basket, they had a chance when he first handed off to Kyrie Irving, and the Suns didn’t follow their coach’s instruction. Then they left (and didn’t rotate over to) a shooter at the arc and… that’s how you blow a three-point lead in the final seconds.
Kyrie Irving took over in OT and the Celtics got the win, 116-109. Kyrie Irving had 39, Devin Booker 38. Just remember, this was the easy game on the Celtics’ road trip West.
3) Carmelo Anthony returned to Houston and… that looked familiar. And ugly. The Thunder were without Russell Westbrook. Houston had won three in a row, all on the road, they had James Harden and Chris Paul healthy and were starting to feel themselves…
And Thursday night was all Thunder. OKC’s defense was sharp, but mostly the Rockets were off — Paul and Harden combined to shoot 11-of-30. As a team, Houston shot just 37.8 percent from the floor. This continues a trend all season, the Rockets are just missing shots. Houston leads the league with 41.9 threes attempted per game, 47.5 percent of their total shots, but they are 25th in shooting percentage from deep at 32.7 percent.
Nobody in a Rockets’ uniform was colder Thursday than Carmelo Anthony, who returned to OKC and shot 1-of-11 — a sight familiar to Thunder fans.
All of this led to a Thunder win — their seventh in a row — behind a balanced attack led by Paul George with 19 points. The Rockets can chalk this one up to just an off shooting night… but there have been a lot of those in this 4-6 start.