MILWAUKEE -- When Steve Kerr retired from his playing career after 16 years in the NBA and five championships, he wanted to stay in basketball, so he became part of group of buyers that put together an offer to purchase his old team, the Phoenix Suns, from Jerry Colangelo. The group ended up purchasing the team for $300 million in 2004, and Kerr would work for the team, first in a consulting role and then, a few years later, as general manager.
What Kerr could not have known at the time is that the beginning of his post-playing career in basketball would coincide with the seeds of a revolution brewing in the sport. The ownership group's first season also happened to be head coach Mike D'Antoni's first full season at the helm of the team, and D'Antoni took new free agent acquisition Steve Nash and began to fiddle with the way we thought basketball should be played. D'Antoni's speedy "Seven Seconds or Less" system pushed offenses to paces we'd never seen. With Nash spearheading the run-and-gun, pick-and-roll-heavy offense, the Suns -- who'd ranked 16th in the NBA in 3-point attempts the season before, averaging 14.7 per game -- ranked first in the NBA, averaging 24.7 3s per game, two and a half more than the next team.
D'Antoni, Kerr said recently, "was the first coach I ever saw who'd get on guys for not shooting. He pumped so much confidence into the Phoenix players, constantly just talking, shoot shoot shoot, don't worry about missing, we want to go, we want to run, get as many shots up as you can. That's why Mike is really the guy who changed our perspective on how to play."
A decade later, Kerr took a job as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Three-pointers had increased steadily over the past decade as teams followed D'Antoni's blueprint, but Kerr's Warriors teams broke the mold, led by two of the greatest 3-point shooters of all time in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. In Kerr's first season at the helm the Warriors took 27 3s a game, fourth in the NBA; in his second season, when the Warriors broke the NBA record for regular-season wins, they led the league in 3s.
The NBA's 3-point revolution has done more than just evolve since then. It's exploded. It's gone off its damn rocker. Kerr's Warriors are averaging three more 3s per game this season compared to his first year -- yet that now ranks them only 18th in the NBA. D'Antoni has pushed his new team, the Houston Rockets, to an even further extreme; last season, the Rockets set an NBA record by averaging 42.3 3-point attempts per game.
On Friday night in Milwaukee, Kerr, the man who was at the tip of the spear for the past and the present of the NBA's 3-point revolution, walked into the Milwaukee Bucks' sparkling new Fiserv Forum to face off against the team that might be the revolution's future. The Bucks have completely reinvented themselves this season under new head coach Mike Budenholzer; where last season the Bucks ranked 25th in the NBA in 3-point attempts, taking only 24.7 per game, this year they are putting up more than 40 per game, second only to the Rockets. The Bucks surrounded their transcendent and impossible-to-guard talent, Giannis Antetokounmpo, with shooters, and told them to let it fly. It's resulted in one of the biggest surprises of the NBA season, with the Bucks leading the NBA in net rating and battling the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers for supremacy at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Instead of a four-out offense, which once was considered extreme, the Bucks have been playing five out. Everyone is launching 3s. Big men are spread all over the floor; 7-footer Brook Lopez, who didn't make a single 3-pointer the first seven years of his career, is taking nearly seven 3s per game, and making them at a 36.8 percent rate. Malcolm Brogdon is near the top of the league in 3-point percentage. Before the game, Kerr simultaneously raved about how the sheer quantity of 3s raining down in Milwaukee has been key to the Bucks' reinvention, but he also hinted that, well, for his Warriors, quantity isn't everything.
"My No. 1 priority is always an open shot rather than a particular type of shot," Kerr said before pregame warm-ups. "I don't care (about how many 3s we take). What I care about is great shots. I want to get really good, open shots. It doesn't matter if they're from 3 or they're from 2. I want them to be good ones and in rhythm. I'm not convinced math is everything. I'd rather go 6-for-12 from 2 and have the other team take the ball out of the net six times than 4-for-12 from 3 and have to deal with eight fast breaks."
So perhaps it would be fair to expect that the team with the two greatest 3-point shooters of all time -- the team that has shaped today's NBA more than any other -- was about to get a lesson in what the future of the NBA would look like with the league's newest innovative team.
Then the Warriors reminded us of something. Like Omar Little said in "The Wire," "You come at the king, you best not miss."
On Friday night, the Bucks missed. One of the NBA's most prolific 3-point shooting teams missed at a higher rate than they have all season; the Bucks hit a season-low seven 3s with a season-low 17.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc. When you live by the 3, you can die by it as well. The Bucks died, in a 105-95 loss.
"You have to live with it," Antetokounmpo said afterward. "If your teammate is wide open and takes a shot and it doesn't go in, you gotta live with it. Because the next game he's going to make that shot. All we care about is good shots."
Meanwhile, the Warriors, who Kerr had just said hours before were more focused on taking good shots than on taking long shots, hoisted 46 3s, the most they have all season. The usual suspects were draining them -- Curry, Thompson and Kevin Durant combined for nine made 3s -- but the unusual suspects were too. Jonas Jerebko tied his career-high by making four 3s; Andre Iguodala and Alfonzo McKinnie knocked down three apiece.
It turns out that, even with the team's recent stumbles, these are still the same Warriors who have defined this era of the NBA.
"This was a game that meant a lot to us because we were embarrassed a few weeks ago," Kerr said. "We have an eye on them. This is a team we could play later on, and this is the last time we could play them (in the regular season), so we wanted to come out and give our best defensive effort. And I thought it was our best defensive game of the year."
Afterward, you could feel something in the air with these Warriors. Kerr said he felt momentum building with this team; so did Thompson. They're now 18-9, winners of three straight and back atop the West. Curry is back, healthy and returning to his pre-injury MVP pace. Draymond Green is due back Monday against the Timberwolves (10:30 p.m. ET, Watch on fubo TV with NBA League Pass extension).
"I really feel like this is a stretch where we can make some hay, where we can make some momentum, get on a nice streak, get some rhythm to our game," Kerr said.
If they keep up with games like Friday night, these Warriors will be the team that's defined this 3-point-heavy era in the NBA more than any other.
Hell, they might even become better than we thought. Because before Friday night's game, DeMarcus Cousins was on the court, practicing alongside Green. Kerr told reporters that the four-time All-Star center was nearing his return, and could soon spend a bit of time rehabbing with the Warriors' G League affiliate. Before the Warriors went out and put up a season-high number of 3s, Cousins and Green engaged in a 3-point-shooting contest. Cousins put up nine 3s in a row from the wing. He made the first eight of them before the ninth rimmed out.