Wednesday's NBA: Defending champion Bucks, Warriors advance to second round

Allen Jordan
The Detroit News

San Francisco — Back in the starting lineup at last, Stephen Curry took over late and brought his team back just as he has so many times during Golden State’s deep postseason runs.

Curry scored 30 points in his return to the starting five and the Warriors beat Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 102-98 on Wednesday night to win their first-round series in five games.

Golden State's Draymond Green, right, and Denver's Nikola Jokic greet each other after the Warriors' 102-98 win in Game 5 of the first-round playoff series Wednesday in San Francisco.

It has been three years since Curry carried Golden State on a big playoff stage – like those five straight trips to the NBA Finals – but he’s certainly still got it.

“Tonight was just a weird feeling because we hadn’t been there in a while,” said Curry, last season’s NBA scoring champion. “We wanted it so bad, kind of made it a lot more difficult on ourselves. But we still remember how to do it, which is a good feeling.”

Curry scored 11 points during the fourth quarter after the Warriors began the final 12 minutes down by eight. The two-time MVP converted a three-point play with 1:33 left and scored again with 29 seconds remaining to help send the Warriors on to the second round in the Western Conference.

“I was a witness, letting him cook, create plays for him. Try to get him open looks and after that, you know what he does,” Warriors guard Gary Payton II said.

Jokic scored 12 of his 30 points in the final 3:46 and finished with 19 rebounds and eight assists.

The Warriors – thriving with the support from their raucous home crowd in their first close-out playoff game at Chase Center – advanced to play the winner of the Memphis-Minnesota series led 3-2 by the Grizzlies heading into Game 6 on Friday in Minneapolis. The Grizzlies eliminated Golden State in the play-in round last year.

Jokic tied it at 90 on an 18-footer with 2:26 remaining before Payton made a layup moments later. Payton also hit a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner in front of Denver’s bench with 6:57 left to put Golden State up 86-84. He finished with 15 points.

“He was incredible, both ends of the floor, big shots, big plays,” teammate Draymond Green (Michigan State) said.

Payton found his dad, former NBA star Gary Payton, after the final buzzer just for a quick hello.

Jokic converted two free throws with 3:46 left after Green’s foul the Golden State defensive star wanted called on the 7-footer. Jokic wound up 12 for 18 from the floor. DeMarcus Cousins contributed 19 points off the bench against his former Golden State team, and Aaron Gordon added 15 points and nine rebounds.

Jokic had an answer, time and again.

“That guy is a warrior. I just don’t understand the people that find a way to criticize Nikola Jokic. Is he perfect? No, I’m not saying he is,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But the guy is the definition of a warrior – competitive, consistent. He impacts the game in so many ways. Hell of a season. Hopefully he’ll win the MVP again. I think rightfully he deserves it.”

Denver made seven of its first 10 shots after halftime to turn a 48-all tie into a 66-56 lead. Curry’s 3 with 4:06 left pulled the Warriors to 68-67.

Curry shot 10 of 22 with five 3-pointers. He came off the bench in the first four games, with the series beginning one month from when he sprained a ligament in his left foot March 16 against Boston.

“Thankfully I got through pretty much unscathed,” Curry said, happy to have a few days off to rest the foot.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr went small with Curry, Jordan Poole (Michigan) and Klay Thompson, as Kevon Looney came off the bench. Thompson had 15 points and nine rebounds.

Kerr challenged the Warriors to “get back to being us.” They had given up 30 points off 15 turnovers and committed 27 fouls that led to 36 free throws for Denver in a 126-121 road loss Sunday.

Golden State didn’t want to go back to Denver for a Game 6, and Curry guided the way to get it done at home.

“He’s our leader, our longest-tenured player, our MVP,” Thompson said of his Splash Brother, “and without him, life is difficult. Steph Curry is one of a kind, and will continue to do the spectacular and make it look effortless.”

More games

► (At) Milwaukee 116, Chicago 100: Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and nine rebounds and the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks routed the Chicago Bulls 116-100 on Wednesday night to finish off the first-round series in five games.

The third-seeded Bucks advanced to face second-seeded Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with Game 1 on Sunday in Boston. The Celtics swept Brooklyn.

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during the first half of Game 5 of their NBA playoff basketball game Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Milwaukee.

After splitting the first two games, the Bucks won the last three by an average margin of 23.3 points. They won those three games without Khris Middleton, the All-Star who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter of Game 2.

Chicago didn't handle the loss of key players quite as well. The Bulls played without the starting backcourt they used for the first four games with two-time All-Star Zach LaVine in health and safety protocols and Alex Caruso in concussion protocol.

The absences enabled Milwaukee’s defense to focus much of its attention on containing DeMar DeRozan, who had scored 41 points in the Bulls’ Game 2 victory. DeRozan was held to 11 points Wednesday while shooting 5 of 10.

Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks by shooting 11 of 15 from the floor and 11 of 14 from the free-throw line. Pat Connaughton hit 6 of 9 3-pointers and scored 20 points, and Bobby Portis added 14 points and career-high 17 rebounds. The Bucks’ largest lead was 29.

Patrick Williams scored 23 points, Nikola Vucevic 19 and Coby White 17 for the Bulls. Vucevic also had 16 rebounds and six assists.

DeRozan was scoreless in the first 26 minutes of the game and attempted just one shot in the first quarter as he tried to get his teammates involved.

The problem was Chicago’s other players weren’t hitting open shots, allowing the Bucks to take command early.

Milwaukee pulled ahead for good 3 1/2 minutes into the game and built a double-digit lead by scoring 12 straight points in the first quarter. Late in the first period, the Bucks began a 23-2 run that helped them extend the advantage to 49-20 with 7:25 left in the second period. Antetokounmpo scored nine straight Bucks points during that second spurt.

Chicago outscored the Bucks 22-11 the rest of the second quarter and got the margin down to 11 on Ayo Dosunmu’s 3-point play with 9:32 left in the third quarter, but Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis hit a pair of corner 3-pointers 36 seconds apart to make it 72-55.