If the Warriors’ offensive that they will one day launch at a free-agent Giannis Antetokounmpo is as effective as Wednesday’s defense, they will land perhaps the most prized player in basketball.
The Greek Freak circus came to town, with all eyes glued on the ring leader on a night the Warriors (coincidentally?) celebrated Greek heritage. This was the only time this season Milwaukee visits — the only time Golden State fans can see him in person alongside the jerseys they hope he one day will sport — and all in all, it was a letdown.
Antetokounmpo did not dominate statistically, his double-double ringing mostly hollow and much of his points coming in Hack-A-Freak late. The Warriors did not win. There were moments, but those and hope were all that Bay Area fans could hold onto as they exited a 107-98 Warriors loss at Chase Center, their sixth straight.
With the Warriors (9-30) amassing assets and already proven viable in the luring-big-fish game, they’re an obvious threat to scoop up the one-man offense who is revolutionizing the game. Wednesday’s game won’t change anything, but did confirm that Antetokounmpo is as much an attraction as a star.
Antetokounmpo, all 6-foot-11 of him with wings at his sides, was mostly swallowed by a Golden State defense that was ready to cave in at any point. When the Greek Freak crossed half court, there were three bodies and six arms waiting to swarm. He rarely forced the issue, and a superstar who could become a free agent in 2021 was not the force he has been throughout most of this season.
Entering averaging upwards of 30 points per game, Antetokounmpo got his 30, but on 10-of-21 from the field and most noticeably 1-of-7 from deep. The Warriors slacked off on him repeatedly, and the big man seemed intent on proving his jumper.
“If we’re going to run out there on those shots and let him get to the rim, that’s a 100 percent shot,” Steve Kerr said before the game, asked if the Warriors would respect Antetokounmpo’s deep game. “We’ll live with the 33 [percent shot] for now, see how that goes.”
It went well, the Warriors hanging around and cutting the deficit to five multiple times in the fourth, but the Bucks (33-7) always ginning up an answer that would drain energy from the building. With 2:21 left in an eight-point game, Antetokounmpo stepped to the line and airballed a free throw. With 1:31 left in a five-point game, Antetokounmpo airballed a 3. A couple cappers on an overall underwhelming night.
Damion Lee wills this Giannis free throw in to an airball 😂 pic.twitter.com/xeYYbl8V3X
— ClutchPoints NBA (@ClutchPointsNBA) January 9, 2020
The Warriors threw a slew of large bodies at the larger body, defending Antetokounmpo with Willie Cauley-Stein, Draymond Green and Eric Paschall. But really, everyone defended the Greek Freak, whose deep shot has improved but is not the threat it needs to be.
With so much of Golden State’s manpower expended on slowing Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ burden fell on the other guys — who were not overly impressive. Milwaukee shot 4-of-23 from deep in the first half, and the sweet-shooting team finished just 9-of-41 from beyond the arc. Despite the cold shooting, they still were comfortably in front for the majority, a 47-39 halftime lead even with the shooting woes. Their one halftime turnover made a large difference.
For the Bucks, Khris Middleton (21 points on 16 shots) eventually picked up the slack.
For the Warriors, Alec Burks stepped up with 19 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but he had little help. The surprising sparkplug came off the bench from Alen Smailagic, who scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 12 minutes and looked to attack every time he got the ball. Even with Antetokounmpo often on him, the 19-year-old was determined to prove himself.
Even if Antetokounmpo does not prove his trey is improved, he still is probably the most coveted player in the NBA, a 25-year-old with no ceiling (ironic for a person who definitely has trouble with ceilings).
For one night, he left Warriors fans intrigued, if not blown away. How many more games will he be playing at Chase Center?
Giannis hits his 1st of many 3s in Chase Center 👀 pic.twitter.com/l548NZzDiD
— Chris Montano (@gswchris) January 9, 2020