SAN FRANCISCO – Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins tried to steal a pass intended for Boston’s Jayson Tatum. He did not get the steal, but as Tatum launched a 3-pointer from the wing, Wiggins got a hand up to contest the shot then hustled to the paint where he grabbed the missed shot for a reobund.
The sequence was emblematic of Wiggins’ Game 4 performance: 17 points, a career-high 16 rebounds, two assists, one steal and stellar defense in 43 minutes, 26 seconds as the Warriors outscored Boston by 20 points and Boston scored a measly 89.5 points per 100 possessions with Wiggins on the court.
The Warriors needed every bit of Steph Curry’s 43 points, but they don’t leave Boston with a 107-97 victory and 2-2 NBA Finals if Wiggins doesn’t have that game.
“Wiggs was fantastic,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “To go against Boston, you’ve got to deal with (Jayson) Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown, and they are just powerful, skilled players. Great size. They are coming downhill at you constantly, so we had to have Wiggs out there. I thought he was great defensively. …
“So we needed every bit of Wiggs contributions.”
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The eight-year veteran was all over the court. He covered 2.95 miles, second to teammate Klay Thompson’s 2.97, according to NBA.com’s tracking data.
In Game 3, Boston out-rebounded Golden State 47-31, including 15-6 in offensive rebounds, leading to a 22-11 edge in second-chance points. Among several areas that required improvement, rebounding was near the top of the list.
In Game 4, the Warriors out-rebounded the Celtics 55-42, allowing just 11 offensive rebound and 12 second-chance points.
“Today, just wanted to come in and be aggressive on the boards and try to help out,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins was also tasked with guarding Tatum for a major portion of Game 4, and he held him to 5-for-13 shooting, forcing one turnover. Tatum was 3-for-11, Marcus Smart 1-for-5 and Derrick White 1-for-4 against Wiggins in Game 3. Wiggins held Tatum to 4-for-10 in Game 2 and 1-for-5 in Game 1 .
“Wiggs has done what he’s done all playoffs – make it tough for the opposing starter to score,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said.
This season, he developed into Golden State’s best perimeter defender and tremendous third or fourth option offensively. It is a perfect role for Wiggins alongside Curry, Green and Thompson.
Wiggins, 27, is a premier two-way player for one of the best teams in the league. He does not say much. His press conferences are short. Earlier in the Finals, he said, “I just let basketball be basketball. Everything else outside the court, I keep my life private. ”
The evolution of Wiggins’ game has been a team-altering development for the Warriors. From Canada and with the provincial nickname “Maple Jordan,” Wiggins entered the league as a scorer under unusual circumstances. The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 – the same summer LeBron James decided to leave Miami and return to Cleveland. It went from development mode to win now, and the Cavs traded Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love.
And he was fine for the Timberwolves, averaging about 20 points, including a career-high 23.6 in 2016-17. But he was not regarded as a special player befitting of the No. 1 overall pick. The lineup featuring Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns did not yield much.
After the 2019 Finals, in which the Warriors lost to Toronto, GM Bob Myers needed roster help on the perimeter with the departures of Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala.
In Feb. 2020, Golden State acquired Wiggins, a 2021 first-round (who turned out to be Jonathan Kuminga) and a second-round pick for Jacob Evans III, D’Angelo Russell and Omari Spellman.
“I think the Wiggins trade is the key to all of this,” Kerr said. “Our whole wing core was wiped out, defensively. So, the Wiggins trade allowed us to start to rebuild that wing defense. Wiggs has just been so good. He’s gotten so much better over the past few years, and he’s a perfect fit next to our guys. I do not know where we’d be without him defensively… He’s just been brilliant, so, I think that move was kind of they that Bob (Myers) and the front office made to get us back to having a playoff roster. “
By this point in the series, Curry is going to get his points, and then the Warriors need help from others if they are going to win another title.
“We have a lot of guys that can go in the game and affect the game in different ways, and right now, everything is needed,” Wiggins said. “Whatever anybody has to give, you do not want to look back a couple weeks from now and be like, ‘I should have done that, I should have done that.’ “
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins shining in NBA Finals vs. Celtics: