Warriors find coal in their Christmas stockings, get blown out by Milwaukee Bucks

Trying to figure out what to take away from a game that the Warriors and their fans would like to forget

Though it was always going to be a challenge, the Golden State Warriors hoped to erase the lingering bad memories from their opening-night demolishing at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets by picking up a win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day. Things looked somewhat promising… for about a half of basketball.

But the Bucks ran away from the Warriors in the third quarter on their way to a resounding 138-99 victory over the Dubs. Hopefully you shut this game off at some point in the middle of the third and enjoyed the rest of your Christmas Day. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I didn’t and I’ve got a few things that stood out to me.

Missed shots mean missed opportunities

The Warriors did keep things close through two quarters of Friday afternoon’s game but were unable to do any more than that due in large part to the egregious amount of open shots they missed. Per NBA.com:

In that first half, the Warriors shot worse than the league average in every area of the court. Even more frustrating was the fact that many of these shots were wide-open. They weren’t contested or especially well-defended by the Bucks. They got good looks and just missed them.

Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre’s struggles, which began in the opening night loss to the Brooklyn Nets, were on display again against the Bucks. Wiggins scored just 12 points while shooting 6/18 from the field (and 0/4 from three-point range) while Oubre contributed a minuscule 3 points and shot 1/10 from the field (and went 0/5 from long distance).

One small positive amidst all this was seeing Wiggins adjust ever so slightly and make a point to slash and drive to the basket rather than settling for outside shots.

Wiggins was at his most productive and effective when he was getting to the rim and attempting shots at close range. The Warriors will want to see more of that from Wiggins as the season goes on. Hopefully these two games will be a bit of a wakeup call and he’ll focus on doing that going forward.

While Wiggins found a way to contribute even as he struggled, the same could not be said for Oubre and his rough start to the 2020-21 season continued unabated. Through 2 games, Oubre has gone 0/11 from three-point range (to be fair Wiggins has not been much better, going 2/10 from beyond the arc). While Wiggins’ rough start has drawn more attention (at least on NBA Twitter), Oubre’s scuffling has been perhaps even more pronounced and worthy of concern.

With all that said, one thing worth remembering is that these struggles (struggles is putting it very kindly) are very much the outliers for each player in their entire career. Though both Wiggins and Oubre have flaws in their respective games, they are not and have never been quite this bad. Eventually, these players will start to make shots at a rate closer to what they’ve done over the course of their career. This, in turn, will translate into much better basketball from the Warriors.

Stephen Curry even noted this in his postgame comments:

When your secondary options, which Wiggins and Oubre are for this team, struggle so profoundly, it’s going to have a negative impact on your star player. It was another substandard (by the lofty standards he’s established for himself) game for Curry, who scored 19 points while going 6/17 from the field (and 2/10 from three-point range).

Because the other offensive threats are neither making shots nor playing consistently, teams can easily key in on Curry and make him the focus of their entire defense. Until those players start to step up and become more consistent threats on offense, things will remain challenging for the Warriors.

No defending this defensive effort

As I said, the Warriors were in striking distance of the Bucks in the first half, trailing by 10 points at halftime. The game was still there for the taking. If the Warriors could make more of their shots, improving on the poor 34.6% shooting percentage through two quarters of Friday’s game (and shooting 27.6% from three-point range), then they could easily erase that Bucks’ advantage and try to win this game.

Obviously, that did not happen. The Bucks pulled away in the third quarter and turned the entire fourth quarter into extended garbage time.

Beyond the continued inability to make shots, what doomed the Warriors’ upset bid was their inability to get stops. In that third quarter, the Bucks shot 57.1% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range, outscoring the Warriors 34-20 and effectively putting the game away. The Bucks shot 54.1% from beyond the arc for the entire game against the Warriors (though those numbers were inflated slightly by going 8/10 from three-point range in that garbage-time fourth quarter).

Just as it was against the Nets on Tuesday, the Warriors did not do a good job defending against their opponents’ outside shooting.

This prevented the Warriors from ever going on an extended run and really cutting into the Bucks’ lead. The Warriors would score but then they would give it right back on the defensive end by allowing the Bucks to take an uncontested shot. The Warriors want to play in such a way that defense leads to offense and they are beating teams using the transition game. To do that, you need to get stops on defense and thus far this season, they’ve been unable to create those stops.

That said, the Warriors did a pretty good job defending Giannis Antetokounmpo, holding him to 15 points on 4/14 shooting. When you have an MVP-caliber player only putting up those kinds of numbers, you have a chance to win. The problem was that the defense against Khris Middleton paled in comparison.

Middleton scored 31 points while going 6/8 from three-point range, thanks in large part to that lackluster Warriors’ defensive effort on the perimeter. There was a chance for the Warriors to steal a win because of Antetokounmpo underperforming, but they couldn’t capitalize because they couldn’t slow down Middleton and the Bucks’ other perimeter players.

A quick sidebar on Middleton—he REALLY impressed me with his play against the Warriors. I’ve been a bit dubious on the Bucks’ chances to win it all. But if Middleton can play like that? I might have to reconsider.

While one player returning to the lineup certainly will not fully address all of these issues that have plagued the Warriors on defense, it will be an immense boost when Draymond Green is able to return to the floor (and, you know, when the Warriors don’t have to play against two of the best offenses in the league). So many of the blown rotations, the ones that led to Bucks’ players taking open three-point shots, will be addressed by having Green out there to organize and “quarterback” the defense.

It’s Wise(man) to appreciate the good moments

Just as it was in that opening game against the Nets, the biggest positive for the Warriors was the play of rookie big man James Wiseman. Against the Bucks (all while having to contend with back-to-back MVP Antetokounmpo), Wiseman scored 18 points while grabbing 8 rebounds and blocking 3 shots in 25 minutes of action. Just as he did in Brooklyn, Wiseman showed that he has some range to stretch the floor, knocking down another three-pointer

What was even more encouraging was to see was how well Wiseman operated in a pick-and-roll situation with Curry.

Wes Goldberg, in his end-of-the-game tweet, highlighted the promise of that pairing:

If the Warriors can get more out of their wings (especially in terms of three-point shooting), then the two-man game that Curry and Wiseman can play could be really devastating. But until they get that, we’re only going to see it in brief glimpses.

There weren’t many other bright spots for the Warriors in this game, but a small one was the play of Brad Wanamaker. The free-agent signing contributed 11 points and grabbed one steal, all while playing well the Warriors’ second unit (which let Curry some rest at the beginning of the second quarter). Three of those points came on this bucket early in the second.

You saw flashes of what the Warriors coaching staff and front office sees in Wanamaker and why they think he can be a solid rotation player for this team.

Taking stock through two games

We’ve made it through two games of this season, so it’s worth pausing to think about where the Warriors are. There are two ways of thinking about their season thus far.

The glass-half-empty view is that the Warriors, a team that has one of the best players in the league, have been blown out twice and struggled to do anything consistently. In fact, their struggles have led to them setting the kinds of records you do not want to set.

But this not the only view one can take. A more optimistic one would look like this—the Warriors played against two of the absolute best teams in the league while missing their second-and-third-best players (and their top two defenders) and having a very different roster that did not have much time together before the season started.

While no one wants or enjoys these struggles, the book on the 2020-21 Warriors hasn’t been completely written yet. Hopefully they’ll get to write crafting a new chapter Sunday in Chicago against the Bulls.

Give a gift subscription