Andrew Wiggins seizes opportunity to become Warriors’ Game 5 hero

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Stephen Curry is going to stride into the Hall of Fame. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green may join him someday. 

Yet in Monday’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals — a 104-94 slugfest that has Golden State just a win away from the title — it was Andrew Wiggins who led the way to victory. 

That Wiggins led the Warriors in scoring was no shock. But that the former No. 1 pick — once derided for his low motor and lack of hustle — led the way defensively against All-Star Jayson Tatum, led them in rebounds and mean-mugs was stunning. 

“We’re here, and we want this,” said Wiggins, who had back-to-back double-doubles for the first time in his career. “I’m excited, the opportunity of a lifetime. I can’t wait [to try to close out Game 6].” 

But Wiggins has remade that image and shifted that narrative. And when he punctuated a 26-point, 13-rebound effort with a drive and thunderous dunk that hit Derrick White in the face, it was the exclamation point on Golden State’s win. And Wiggins’ renaissance. 

“Yeah, he’s a very mild-mannered guy, but he’s taken a leap in these playoffs in terms of his impact on the game defensively, on the glass,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You saw it the other night, 16 rebounds. I think because the games are obviously so meaningful, there’s more emotion from him and from everybody. 

Andrew Wiggins dunks during the Warriors' Game 5 win over the Celtics.
Andrew Wiggins dunks during the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the Celtics.
AP
Andrew Wiggins smothered Jayson Tatum all night.
Andrew Wiggins smothered Jayson Tatum all night.
USA TODAY Sports

“The biggest thing is he is a two-way player. You’ve got to have two-way guys to make it this far and to succeed. He has just grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple years. It’s really fun to watch that growth.” 

Kerr has repeatedly pointed to Wiggins’ growth as the X factor that helped Golden State survive the injury to Thompson and get the Warriors to the NBA Finals. And now that they’re here, Wiggins hasn’t slowed down. He’s just gotten better. 

In their Game 4 win in Boston with Green struggling, Wiggins ripped down a career-high 16 rebounds. He was even better in Game 5. 

After a driving layup to put them up 87-78, he harassed Tatum into a badly missed 12-foot fadeaway, and followed with a floater driving across the lane to make it 89-78. 

His dunk over White padded the lead to 99-82 and was the cherry on top. 

Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins seized his opportunity.
EPA

His 7-foot wingspan has held Tatum in check all series, and his ability to put the ball on the deck has provided a complement to Curry when Green and Thompson have struggled. But it’s the grit that’s been a pleasant surprise. 

“For sure,” Wiggins said. “There’s more exposure. Doing it on a bigger stage, even when I used to score a lot in Minnesota or do anything special, it’s like, you did that but you’re losing, so no one really cares. But doing it on a winning team, it’s appreciated more. 

“It bothered me in a motivational way, just wanted to change that viewpoint. But I would never go out in the media and be like [mocking toward them]. I just play hard, and if that’s what you think, that’s what you think. I was never one to really try to impress anybody or change the media’s mind. I always just stayed true to myself and do what I do.”



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