SAN FRANCISCO – Draymond Green knew from the day the Golden State Warriors traded for Andrew Wiggins in 2019 that he could be a valuable player for a championship contending team.
“We looked at the trade from the very beginning like that is a guy who can fit next to a healthy group absolutely well,” Green said.
Green recalled when Tom Thibodeau, then without an NBA coaching job, visited the Warriors and vouched for Wiggins, and via Thibodeau’s deep, booming voice, Jimmy Butler gave the ultimate endorsement.
“When he (Wiggins) first came here, and I’ll never forget, it was when Thibs wasn’t with the Knicks, and Thibs was like, ‘You’re going to love him. He competes. He defends,'” Green said. “And he was telling us Jimmy loved him. And we all know how Jimmy Butler is. If you have any softness to you, Jimmy do not like you. That’s how Jimmy is cut.”
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Wiggins entered the NBA Finals MVP discussion with another tremendous performance Monday. He had a team-high 26 points and 13 rebounds – his second consecutive double-double – and added two assists, two steals and one block in Golden State’s 104-94 victory against Boston in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
The Warriors have a 3-2 series lead and can win their fourth championship in eight seasons with one more victory against the Celtics.
Wiggins’ 17-point, 16-point effort in Game 4 came in a contest in which Steph Curry had 43 points. Curry struggled in Game 5, just 16 points on 9-for-22 shooting, and he missed his nine 3-point attempts, the first time he did not make a 3 in 133 career playoff games.
“He’s found such a crucial role on our team, and I think that empowers him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He knows how much we need him, so he’s been fantastic.”
On a night when Curry was ordinary, Wiggins was extraordinary. His 10 fourth-quarter points came during a stretch in which Golden State turned a 75-74 lead at the start of the fourth quarter to 99-84 on his dunk with 2:10 left in the game.
“I was out there being aggressive,” the understated Wiggins said. “It was a good game.”
In the Finals, Wiggins is averaging 18.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks and is shooting 45.8% from the field and 25% on 3-pointers. By comparison, Curry is averaging 30.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals and is shooting 46.6% from the field and 41.7% on 3-pointers.
Curry is the Finals MVP favorite.
But Wiggins’ contributions can’t be ignored, and the Celtics don’t have answers for his rebounding and scoring inside the 3-point line. He slashes, pulls up, defends and rebounds and has emerged as the scoring option the Warriors desperately needed after falling behind 2-1 in the series.
“The bigger the challenge has been that we’ve thrown in front of him, the bigger he’s responded,” Green said. “You want a guy like that. When the stage gets big, they respond and play their best basketball, and that’s what he’s been doing.”
The Warriors acquired Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, in 2019 – a transformational time for the franchise. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn in free agency, and Klay Thompson was not going to play in 2019-20 after sustaining a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals against Toronto.
“We knew we needed his athleticism and defense and his versatility,” Kerr said. “We had no idea that he would make this kind of contribution. But I think it’s a reminder that for every – almost every – player in the NBA, circumstances are everything. You kind of need to find the right place, the right teammates, that kind of stuff. Wiggs has been a great fit. “
Not that Wiggins’ circumstances in Minnesota were bad. There just wasn’t much team success. The Timberwolves traded him to a better situation.
“Great people here that challenge you,” Wiggins said. “They hold you accountable. The support system, everyone on this team, this organization, they support you and they want to see you do good, and they put you in a position to do good.
“I’m playing basketball, and I’m playing hard, and I feel like people respect that. And 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. “
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter: @JeffZillgitt:.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Andrew Wiggins enters NBA Finals MVP discussion for Warriors: