When Andrew Wiggins arrived in Golden State, his motor was questioned, his desire was doubted, and his future with the Warriors dismissed.
Now? Steve Kerr has called the trade for Wiggins the key to reaching the NBA Finals. And after coming up huge in the two biggest games of his life, the former No. 1 pick has Golden State a win away from the championship.
Wiggins led the way in Monday’s 104-94 Game 5 win over the Celtics — leading the Warriors not just in scoring, but rebounding, defense, driving dunks and even mean mugs. For a quiet Canadian who has grown into the role — one that’s helped the Warriors continue their dynasty — he’s shifted the narrative, and these Finals.
“For what Andrew did … we don’t get more excited than when Wiggs dunks on somebody and mean mugs them,” Klay Thompson grinned. “That really uplifts the whole team and the Bay Area.”
With Draymond Green struggling in Game 4 in Boston, Wiggins snatched a career-high 16 rebounds in a Warriors win. He backed that up with 26 points and 13 boards — both team highs — and a thunderous dunk that hit Derrick White in the face on Monday. It was the exclamation point on their victory. And Wiggins’ renaissance.
“It’s something I dreamt about for sure. This is the ultimate stage. It doesn’t get bigger than this,” said Wiggins, who shared an emotional postgame moment with assistant Mike Brown. “I was out there being aggressive. It was a good game.”
He’s been a good add.
Once Kevin Durant had decided to bolt for Brooklyn in 2019, it was the Warriors convincing Durant and the Nets to work his departure into a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell that has made all the difference. They turned around and dealt Russell for Wiggins, and the rest is history.
“I’m just trying to win. At the end of the day, no matter what it takes or whatever they need from me, I’m here to help them win,” said Wiggins, adding, “These guys challenge you. Every day before the game, they’ll tell you, ‘We need you.’ ”
And Wiggins has responded, second on the team in scoring in these Finals (18.4), tops in rebounding (9.4) and blocks (1.2).
And his long-armed defense and 7-foot wingspan has smothered Boston All-Star Jayson Tatum to 37.3 percent shooting.
“I think the Wiggins trade is the key to all this,” Kerr said last week. And with chatter that he should be in the mix for NBA Finals MVP, Kerr added, “We knew we needed his athleticism and defense and his versatility. We had no idea that he’d make this kind of contribution. But it’s a reminder that for every — almost every — player in the NBA, circumstances are everything … Wiggs has been a great fit.”
Wiggins had 10 points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter alone Monday, making 5 of 6 shots and helping smother Tatum to 1-for-5 shooting with a turnover.
After a driving layup to put the Warriors up 87-78, he harassed Tatum into a badly missed 12-foot fadeaway, and followed with a floater driving across the lane to make it 89-78.
His dunk over White padded the lead to 99-82 and was the cherry on top.
“Bottom line is he’s just having fun playing basketball, that’s the biggest thing,” Curry said. “Everything he’s been through in his career, the talk about him as a No. 1 guy, all that stuff, I’m sure he’s enjoying this more than anything else he’s experienced in this league.”
Now Canadian — whose father Mitchell reached the 1986 Finals with Houston, but lost to Boston in six — has his chance to turn the tables on Thursday in Game 6 at TD Garden.
“When he first came here … [Tom Thibodeau] was like, ‘You’re going to love him. He competes. He defends.’ And he was telling us Jimmy [Butler] loved him. And we all know how Jimmy Butler is. If you have any softness to you, Jimmy don’t like you,” Green said. “He’s continued to get better. He’s taken on every challenge that we have thrown in front of him. And that’s been huge. And we need him to do that for one more win.”