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Shooting woes continue as Warriors drop ugly matchup with Bucks

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The halftime show Wednesday night at Chase was an old dance number from a Greek dance troupe, complete with bonnets and big dresses.

It could be seen as a subtle recruiting pitch for Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it served as more of a preview for the type of basketball the crowd was in store for.

Eventually, the Warriors (9-30) fell, 107-98, to the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks (33-6), but it was a slog to get there.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors locker room at Chase Center.

Both teams nearly shot under 40 percent, but the Bucks finished just over the mark, shooting 40.2 percent for the game — and yet, it felt much worse.

Draymond Green was amped up for the National TV game, but he looked like the only one. Everyone else on the court was moving and thinking in slow motion.

There were bricks and airballs aplenty as both teams assaulted the eyes of the ESPN viewers. That’s the type of game the Warriors actually wanted against Antetokounmpo, though.

Glenn Robinson III said it’s crazy to see the transformation of Antetokounmpo’s game:

“When he came into the league, he was basically a back-cut guy. They put him in the corner, but now with the ball in his hands he’s dangerous. We have to load up to him and put three four guys in the paint and try to force somebody else to beat us and it was part of our game plan.”

The Warriors employed that strategy, similar to the defense they used the last time they National television, taking the ball out of the opponent’s star’s hands.

On Christmas, that meant a straight double of James Harden. Wednesday, that meant sitting three players under the basket in help whenever Antetokounmpo had the ball.

It succeeded in mucking up the game for the seemingly unstoppable “Greek Freak,” as he went into halftime with just 11 points, on 4-of-10 shooting, and four rebounds. He finished right at his average, with 30. The defense did its job — mostly — holding the Bucks to 33-percent shooting and just 47 first-half points.

Steve Kerr said that they executed the game plan pretty well, but sometimes that doesn’t matter against a player like Antetokounmpo:

“That’s how good he is, it didn’t feel like he had a very good game, and he had 30 points and 12 rebounds. That’s why he’s the MVP. We tried to make him work, and we tried to put bodies in front of him and we gave up a lot of threes, a lot of open threes trying to challenge. But we basically did a good job defensively. They missed a lot of shots but we were able to hang in we just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”

The problem — like it has been all year — is that their offense is beyond awful.

The Warriors have shot over 50 percent for a game exactly one time this season. In 39 games.

They are shooting 43.1 percent from the field this season, which is good enough to be tied for dead-last with the Chicago Bulls.

Wednesday, the only player who was in any sort of offensive rhythm was Alen Smaillagic, who came in and immediately scored eight points in his seven second-quarter minutes.

The kid’s game has impressed his bench mate Omari Spellman:

“Unbelievable, like just his natural talent, his natural feel for the game, no conscience. That’s just so inspiring to see, someone unaffected by their age, unaffected by expectations.”

He got some extended run after Marquese Chriss was waived following Monday’s game, although from the way he was playing, he could have used more. It also opened up minutes for Spellman at his more natural five position.

And Spellman continued to stroke it from 3, hitting three more Wednesday off the bench. He is a blistering 8-of-13 from deep during the new year and scored in double figures every game as well.

That has given the Warriors the kind of spacing they have been missing basically the entire season. And he’s doing all this without the threat of other shooters on the court.

It’s easy to see a fit for Spellman once Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson get back on the court, and it will be a luxury those two haven’t had since Marreese Speights left the Bay Area.

Kerr said that Spellman is a gamechanger with his shooting ability:

“His energy has been great, and the thing he adds that we haven’t really had a whole lot of here is that big that can pop and shoot a 3. It really does change the game when you have a big man that can shoot a 3. It makes a huge difference.”

That has been the trend recently for the Warriors: bench players emerging with highly productive games after watching the starters struggle to get any kind of quality look.

Even late in the game, it was Alec Burks who took over on offense. He went for his usual 19 points off the bench, while his starting counterparts of Damion Lee and Robinson III struggled, combining for 30.

And it’s something that is going to stay that way until D’Angelo Russell comes back or Burks gets traded — perhaps both.

Yet, even with their 37-percent shooting, their second-worst shooting game of the season, the underdog Warriors were still in this game late.

It was a five-point game with under two minutes to play, but it didn’t matter for anyone but the gamblers.

Up Next

The Warriors have a jam-packed schedule the rest of the month as they will play every other day until Jan. 24. Before that though, they have a quick two-game road trip kicking off in LA against the Clippers Friday.

Notes

While Damion Lee is basically assured a regular NBA contract when the team waived Marquese Chriss Monday, the Warriors can’t offer it to him until Chriss clears waivers or is claimed. So for now, he is still subjected to the 45-day max of his two-way contract.


Curtis Uemura is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @CUemura on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.

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