SAN FRANCISCO — After Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Golden State Warriors star Andrew Wiggins was seen in a new light, digging deep defensively and dominating the glass to help his team level the series 2-2.
The lean, athletic forward recorded 17 points, grabbed a career-high 16 crucial rebounds, had a plus-minus 20 in the starting unit and held Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum on 23 points on 23 shot attempts. His desire to win and compete was evident in his 43 minutes on Friday.
During his six seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves there was a time when his fighting spirit was questioned. Wiggins possessed athleticism, a quick first step and the ability to handle the ball at 6-foot-8, but he didn’t break out to a star, leading critics to believe he wasn’t trying to maximize his attributes.
“I would never say I wasn’t competitive at any point. I was just on a losing team [in Minnesota]’ Wiggins told Yahoo Sports after Sunday’s practice session. “I used to score more goals and do pretty much everything, but now I’m on a winning team. So anything I do people will appreciate more and that’s what winning means. Nobody respects losers and I can feel it. Everyone says they want to be a winner, but everyone can’t. People respect winners and I’m happy to be in this situation.”
That “uncompetitive” label is now being shed in Wiggin’s third season with Golden State after being traded there in 2020. There is evidence from his rookie season to support his claim that he always had a competitive fire.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Wiggins as the #1 pick in the 2014 draft. And not long after that, LeBron James made a splash when it was announced he was returning to Cleveland after spending the last four years leading the Miami Heat to two titles.
From then on, Wiggins’ fate was unknown as management suddenly had to quickly compile a Championship roster around James.
It was an awkward time for Wiggins, spanning nearly two months, knowing he would likely never play a game for the team that drafted him.
“It’s been a tough time,” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports. “I can not lie.”
In a blockbuster three-team trade in late August, the two headliners of the pack saw Wiggins sent to Minnesota in exchange for All-Star power forward Kevin Love.
And in those two games against Cleveland that season, the eventual Rookie of the Year made sure the Cavaliers remembered why they picked him up with their first overall win.
When they first met in late December, Wiggins scored 27 points in 9-of-16 shooting and lost in Cleveland. At the time, it was his second-highest score.
The last meeting of the season took place at the end of January. Minnesota lost again, but Wiggins broke out of the field in 43 minutes for a career-high 33 points on 14-of-25.
“I definitely had them circled on the calendar,” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports. “I knew exactly when they were coming. I was ready.”
A year later, in their third fight, Wiggins upped the ante by posting a career-high 35 points in 12-for-19 shooting. Wiggins and the Timberwolves would only defeat the Cavaliers in his fourth season in the league, but the young star made his point.
“I wanted to show them what’s missing, show them that I’m doing better here. That was my mindset at the time,” Wiggins told Yahoo Sports. “It was always fun and competitive to play against a team that traded you. It wasn’t an easy experience to get through, but I feel like it has kept me motivated and competitive.”
The Cavaliers clinched a title from the trio of James, Love and Kyrie Irving in their second season together after historically upsetting the Warriors by overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 Finals.
Wiggins said he understood the path the Cavaliers were taking to surround James with established veterans and he didn’t harbor hard feelings.
But he wants to set the record straight.
“I’ve always been a competitor and I wanted to win. That should never have been questioned,” he told Yahoo Sports.