After Stephen Curry scored 43 points in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Warriors teammate Andrew Wiggins expressed his amazement.
“All you can do is watch,” Wiggins said. “When Steph has the ball sometimes, you just watch and see what he does.”
Wiggins did far more than watch Monday.
On an off night by Curry, Wiggins led Golden State to a 104-94 Game 5 victory with 26 points and 13 rebounds. Wiggins capped his legendary night with an emphatic dunk:
OH MY WIGGINS‼️ HAVE A NIGHT‼️
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) June 14, 2022
The message sent by the slam?
“We’re here,” Wiggins said in his walk-off interview on ABC. “We’re here, and we’re hungry.”
Wiggins uniquely so.
The Warriors’ other top players – Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green – have all already won three championships. Wiggins, 27, had played in the postseason only once before this year – a meager first-round loss with the Timberwolves in 2018.
Golden State traded D'Angelo Russell for Wiggins in 2020, when Wiggins appeared to be on a severely negative-value contract. In fact, Wiggins’ max extension from Minnesota had become a running joke. Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor offered the lucrative deal only after looking Wiggins in the eyes and getting the forward to promise to improve… just to see Wiggins’ production frustratingly fall off a cliff as soon as he put pen to paper.
When Wiggins arrived in the Bay Area, Warriors coach Steve Kerr immediately tried to temper expectations for the highly paid former No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year. “We’re not asking him to be a star,” Kerr said.
Well, Wiggins became an All-Star this year. On a good team, he fit in with his defense and complementary scoring. Though fans voting him in received a lot of attention, the NBA’s new system ensured he’d make it only with sufficient support from media and fellow players. If not selected a starter, Western Conference coaches might have voted him in as a reserve. They usually look to reward members of winning teams.
But in a league where there’s a growing separation between 82-game and 16-game players, Wiggins still had to validate himself in the playoffs. Not even a regular-season All-Star berth would satisfy in Golden State.
Once again, Wiggins is proving himself.
Like Curry (0-for-9), Wiggins (0-for-6) missed all his 3-pointers tonight. But Wiggins’ athleticism allows him to hold up in the highest levels. He’s finding moments to attack offensively, crashing the glass harder than ever and diligently defending Jayson Tatum. This is the profile that made Wiggins the No. 1 pick in 2014.
Wiggins’ 17 points and career-high 16 rebounds – five more than any other game, regular-season or postseason – in Game 4 looked special.
His 26 points and 13 rebounds tonight are on another level.
In fact, they usually belong in the domain of the NBA’s all-time greats.
Of the 39 players who posted those numbers in a Finals win, 33 were on the 75th anniversary team and/or Hall of Famers. The six exceptions:
- Andrew Wiggins (2022 Warriors-Celtics)
- Rasheed Wallace (2004 Pistons-Lakers)
- Cedric Maxwell (1981 Celtics-Rockets)
- Alvan Adams (1976 Suns-Celtics)
- Leroy Ellis (1965 Lakers-Celtics)
- Joe Graboski (1956 Philadelphia Warriors-Fort Wayne Pistons)
Maxwell won Finals MVP. Though Curry’s strong overall series should keep him leading this year’s race, Wiggins is getting some buzz.
“He loves the challenge,” Kerr said. “He loves the competition. And he’s found such a crucial role on our team, and I think that empowers him. He knows how much we need him, so he’s been fantastic.
Whether the Warriors need Wiggins has been debatable. He’s Golden State’s luxury piece. When Kevin Durant left, the Warriors executed a double sign-and-trade for Russell on a max contract to keep the salary slot then flipped Russell for Wiggins. Without Wiggins, opposing teams wouldn’t grumble nearly as much about the Warriors’ spending. He puts their payroll over the top.
“Nobody wanted Wiggins,” Golden State general manager Bob Myers said in defense of his team’s spending. “I mean, nobody was saying anything then.”
Myers had a big smile and hug for Wiggins as the forward left the court Monday. Wiggins might appreciate if Myers has a big contract extension for him this offseason, too.
But first, Wiggins will play a potential closeout Game 6 Thursday
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Wiggins said on ABC. “I worked hard for it. The team worked hard for it. So, I’m excited. I can’t wait.”