SAN FRANCISCO -- With six minutes left in the Warriors' 107-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, Ky Bowman reminded Golden State of the force required to improve during this transitional season.
The two-way guard intercepted a pass from Bucks big man Brook Lopez, took two prolonged dribbles, and skied for a dunk over Milwaukee wing Wes Mathews right in front of Warriors All-Stars Stephen Curry and D'Angelo Russell. The pair then jumped on the Chase Center court cheering, as Bowman cut a 13-point lead down five.
Under normal circumstances, the sequence would signal the duo's return to the court for the final stretch of a contest. But with both pillars out injured and wearing street clothes, it proved once again these aren't normal circumstances for the Warriors.
Similar efforts have come in spurts, as the Warriors' dynastic talent pool of the last five seasons has been replaced by a group of unproven players, closing the margin for error and reinforcing the need for maximum effort on a nightly basis. The Warriors hung tight with a legitimate championship contender Wednesday, impressing the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks in the process.
"They compete no matter who's on the court," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said following the game. "They get after you. They play hard. I think the way they're moving on offense, off the ball and the pin-downs and the screen actions [is good], and defensively they're getting after you. Really impressive what they're doing, what coach Kerr's doing and their players. They make you earn it for sure."
Budenholzer's words have merit. Through the first 24 minutes of Wednesday's loss, the Warriors -- without Curry, Russell and Klay Thompson -- held the Bucks to just 33.33 percent shooting from the field.
Entering Wednesday, Milwaukee held the league's third-ranked offense, posting a 113.7 offensive rating. But the Bucks made just 40 percent of their field-goal attempts Wednesday, and the Warriors contained reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo early. He still scored 30 points, but Antetokounmpo missed six of his first 10 shots and also finished the night 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
"We tried to make him work and we tried to put bodies in front of him," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We basically did a good job defensively and they missed a lot of shots and we were able to hang in."
The Warriors' defense allowed them to stick in a game that they shot 37.9 percent from the field. When the Bucks took an eight-point lead at the half, the Warriors responded with a 10-5 spurt to cut the lead to three early in the third quarter. When Milwaukee pushed the lead back to 13 in the fourth quarter, Golden State used a 10-2 run to cut the lead to five, capped by Bowman's dunk.
Such performances have been inconsistent in recent weeks. Last month, the Warriors followed up an upset win over the Houston Rockets with a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks at home. But in a year of transition, Wednesday's performance will be welcomed.
"We have to go out and compete and I thought we did a good job of that tonight," Kerr said. "We played a solid game against a team that is 33-6, so we walk out with our heads held high and you have to continue to compete and play that way and get some wins."
Why Warriors must consistently maintain effort shown in loss to Bucks originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area