Before this season Andrew Wiggins‘s playoff resume consisted of a five-game stint with Minnesota in 2018. Wiggins averaged 15.8 points in that series and the T-Wolves were eliminated in the first round. In 20 postseason games this year, Wiggins is averaging 16 points. He collects 7.3 rebounds. And after 26 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5, he propelled the Warriors to a championship win.
It was Golden State 104, Boston 94 on Monday, and the Warriors had a 3-2 lead. After beating the Celtics in Game 4, Golden State came out hot and raced to an early 27-16 first-quarter advantage. Wiggins scored seven points in the first round and led a Warriors defense that kept the Celtics at 34.8% shooting.
The second quarter was similar. Wiggins again hit the Warriors offense and scored nine points. This time, however, Boston kept pace, with Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart averaging 14 points combined in the quarter. At halftime, Golden State went into the dressing room with a 12-point lead.
The Warriors owned the third quarter of this series. In the first four games, Golden State beat Boston 136-87 in the third. In Game 5, the Celtics turned the tables. Tatum set off. It’s been a frustrating streak for Tatum. With Wiggins draped all over him, Tatum failed to manage 40-percent shooting performance in three of the first four games, with the final’s physicality appearing to affect him. However, Tatum got hot in the third quarter. He scored nine points, closing on 3-of-4 from three-point range. Smart and Jaylen Brown each scored nine points. After Boston missed its first 12 threes, a Finals record, Boston tied its next eight – also a Finals record.
Boston’s vaunted defense notably joined Stephen Curry. After scoring 43 points in Game 4, Curry struggled in Game 5. He scored 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting, including 1-of-6 in the third quarter. “They kept trying to attack him,” Steve Kerr said. After leading by 16, Golden State entered fourth place and clung to a one-point lead.
In the fourth, the Warriors took over. Klay Thompson scored six of his 21 points. Gary Payton II, who has given Golden State a tremendous boost at both ends since returning from an elbow injury, scored four of his 15. Curry chipped in four more. Wiggins scored 10, the last two a driving dunk by just over two minutes to give Golden State a 15-point lead.
This season has been about redemption for Wiggins. Wiggins, the No. 1 in 2014, hasn’t lived up to his potential in six seasons in Minnesota. In 2020, the Warriors acquired Wiggins — along with a first-round pick — in a deal for D’Angelo Russell. Wiggins, who played for four Minnesota head coaches, offered stability for the first time in his career and thrived. Last season, Wiggins averaged 18.6 points in 71 games, which is 38% of his three-point attempts. This year, Wiggins averaged 17.2 points while shooting 39.3% of his three-pointers. He was named an All-Star Starter. He went on to become Golden State’s top wing defender. Kerr has called Wiggins the “key move” in reviving the Warriors dynasty.
“We knew we needed his athleticism and defense and his versatility,” Kerr said. “We had no idea he would make such a contribution. But I think it’s a reminder that for almost every player in the NBA, circumstance is everything. You kind of have to find the right place, the right teammates, stuff like that. Wiggs is a great fit.”
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The Celtics will go home with a chance to salvage their season. Boston has been here before. They bounced back from a 3-2 deficit to beat Milwaukee in the second round. But the Celtics’ self-inflicted wounds are troubling. Boston continues to play carefree. They committed 18 turnovers in Game 5 – compared to seven for Golden State – resulting in 22 Warriors points. They missed 10 of their 31 free throws. They gave up 50 points in the suit.
“Now we have our backs to the wall,” said Al Horford. “And we need to see what we are made of. The challenge starts on Thursday.”
Boston needs its stars to show themselves. Tatum’s last stat line was solid — 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting — but he was a mixed bag, scoring just five points on 1-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter. Brown scored 18 points but needed 18 shots to do so. In the fourth quarter, the Celtics had as many baskets made (four) as turnovers. “We have no consistent effort, no sustained effort,” said Ime Udoka.
you will need it. Curry doesn’t have the kind of high-profile superstar alongside him that he’s had in previous seasons, but he has help. Draymond Green had arguably his best game of the series, Payton and Jordan Poole gave the Warriors a hit off the bench and Thompson, who has made 41% of his three-pointers in the last three games, is looking better by the day.
And there’s Wiggins. For once, Wiggins seemed poised to be immortalized among the top NBA busts. Now he’s just one win away from helping a team win a championship. Late Monday, Green was asked why Wiggins had blended in so well.
“[Tom Thibodeau] told us that Jimmy [Butler] loved him,” Green said, citing Wiggin’s time in Minnesota. “And we all know what Jimmy Butler is like. If you’ve got some softness in you, Jimmy doesn’t like you. … He took on every challenge we gave him and it’s huge. We need him to do that for another win.”
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