It had to end eventually. The defending champion Golden State Warriors saw their first loss of the 2015-16 NBA season on Saturday at the Milwaukee Bucks, losing 108-95 at the GMO Harris Bradley Center to see their previously unbeaten record fall to 24-1.
The Warriors shattered the previous record of 15 straight wins to start a season and figure to see their mark stand for some time. Golden State also saw the end of a 28-game winning streak — the second-longest ever and just five short of the record 33-game streak set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers — that began at the end of last regular season. The Bucks franchise has now snapped six streaks of 12 games or more, including the two longest in NBA history. The good news for the Warriors is that all five of their previous victims went on to win the title.
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Saturday proved to be a perfect storm for a team finishing up a season-high seven-game road trip. Playing less than 24 hours after tipping off a 124-119 double-overtime win at the Boston Celtics in which they sat two starters due to ankle injuries, Golden State saw Klay Thompson return to the starting lineup but suffered through one of its worst shooting nights of the season (40.9 percent from the field and 6-of-26 from three-point range). The Bucks countered with an uncharacteristically high 49.4 percent night from the field, including free-agent addition Greg Monroe's best game with the team (28 points on 11-of-16 FG), to run their record to 10-15.
The trouble started early for the visitors. The offensively limited Bucks led 30-18 after just 10 minutes due to a combination of superior energy and hot shooting, particularly from starting guard O.J. Mayo (4-of-5 from deep in the first half). The Warriors closed the first quarter on a 10-0 run to ensure that it would not be a blowout, but the earliest portion of the game set the tone. Golden State played from behind for all but a few moments and seemed to lack the capacity for the overwhelming runs and lights-out shooting displays that have made them such a handful for two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Bucks saw shots that have missed for most of the season go down. Monroe succeeded with a steady diet of baby hooks while Michael Carter-Williams had most of his patented drives and throw-ins find the bottom of the net (17 points on 7-of-10 FG). But the Bucks also created their own luck, beating the Warriors to many loose balls and generally seeming like the more locked-in team despite playing the second game of a back-to-back themselves.
It is likely that the strains of a 13-day, seven-game road trip finally caught up to the Warriors, especially due to the effort they expended in Friday's win over the Celtics. They fought back from several significant Bucks leads and trailed by three-points entering the fourth quarter, but team-wide fatigue saw Luke Walton turn to an early fourth-quarter lineup with no consistent scorers and iffy spacing. Milwaukee began the final period on a 13-3 run and never looked back, absorbing the reintroduction of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and other key Warriors with little trouble. Thompson had little to give all night as he attempted to come back from a sprained ankle sustained earlier in the week (4-of-14 FG and 2-of-7 3FG, most of which missed short), and Golden State missed the presence of Harrison Barnes (missing his eighth consecutive game with his own ankle sprain) on a night when Andre Iguodala struggled (1-of-9 FG). Curry and Green were both fine overall, but that wasn't enough given the deficiencies elsewhere.
The Warriors will leave Milwaukee disappointed to lose. Nevertheless, their start clearly solidified their status as favorites to repeat as champions. A team that entered this season facing questions about good fortune now looks like a potentially historically great squad. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is the early leader for that award again, Draymond Green has improved and looks set to make his first All-Star Game, and every other key player seems more comfortable in his role. It's even more remarkable that the Warriors have achieved all they have with Luke Walton manning the sidelines in place of head coach Steve Kerr, who is still not fully recovered from offseason back surgery.
One loss is ultimately a minor blemish on Golden State's record. In fact, don't be surprised if they start a new streak on Wednesday when they return to Oracle Arena to host the Phoenix Suns.
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