SACRAMENTO – When Game 1 was at its height and most tense, when the Kings and Warriors’ relentless back-and-forth movement reached a crescendo, the ball found Andrew Wiggins in the dying seconds. Well, of course I did.
I found it because it was wide open. I found him in his first match two months ago, and he fell right at the start of this thunderous match. She found him after missing his previous three open 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter. Found him when he made her might have won the Warriors game. And when he missed it, it was basically game over.
I found the ball. He didn’t miss it, though. he required the shot. Wiggins stepped into it like he’d been playing all night — like he was sure he was going to make it, like he felt the full tempo and just as committed to helping lift the Warriors just as he did last season to a championship run.
“I felt like the last one surprising – I didAndWiggins said with a shrug then. “I didn’t go though. But it’s just from here. I know I’m going to take more shots.”
So the Warriors lost, 126-123, at the Golden 1 Center on Saturday. This makes gaming 2 an imperative moment. This puts the warriors on high alert, if they weren’t there already. The Kings came close to the Warriors’ best road shot and held on thanks to incredible performances from D’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Trey Lyles.
But the Warriors’ post-game mood matched Wiggins’ ridiculous disappointment. There was no plunge into despair. There was no grumbling or grinding of the teeth. They’ve been here before. They have endured hostile environments. They played great teams. They made adjustments after huge losses. They win most of the time. They can handle this if they have the right staff. And now they have wigs again.
Basically, they lost Game 1 but felt like they also gained something. They finally get Wiggins back, and he’s ready for it. In Game 1, he ran all over the floor, stopped a career-high four shots, made 7 of his first 12 shots and played a whopping 28 minutes just when the Warriors needed it most.
If he had just hit a shot or two in the fourth inning, the Warriors would be up 1-0 now. And both Warriors and Wiggins predict that if things unfold just like that again in this series, Playoff Wiggins will make this shot. Because he’s back.
Nothing to complain about, even after defeat.
“It’s so great to have him back,” Steve Kerr said of Wiggins. “We’re complete with him there. Our team makes sense with the wigs back. I thought he looked really good. I thought the first half was amazing. In the second half he was maybe a little weak, which is to be expected given he hasn’t played in a game in over two months. But he is.” It was awesome “.
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Kerr also mentioned that what really killed the Warriors were the 17 offensive rebounds they surrendered to the Kings and some defensive issues trying to slow down Fox, Monk and Lyles. Some of that, Kerr didn’t need to figure out, could perhaps be fixed once Wiggins is fully ready to explode with bigger players and play a full game of frantic defense on the ball.
Warriors are ready for this. They waited for the Wiggins family issues to settle. They welcomed him back a few weeks ago. They softened it up with some brawls earlier this week, which, by all accounts, Wiggins dominated. So they lost a good game in his first appearance since before the All-Star break. So Wiggins missed a few shots in the end. The Warriors will take this scenario into every game.
“He was very aggressive,” said Draymond Green of Wiggins. And the fact that he was aggressive[means]you can live with him missing some shots that we know he’s going to take. That comes with getting your legs back down. But getting into a playoff after two and a half months of not playing in an NBA game was a big deal. It will continue to get better for us.”
“I’m here to compete,” Wiggins said. “I believe in myself and what I can do. Even though I missed that shot tonight, I know the next one comes in.”
After those scuffles, after every Warriors player reported he was playing phenomenal, there was some speculation that Wiggins might even start in Game 1. As it was, Wiggins scored the reach with 6:21 left in the first quarter and basically played the starting minutes from there.
Was this how Wiggins played in the scuffles?
“He’s probably better at brawls,” Green said. “He didn’t miss a chance in scrimmage. He was amazing in scrimmage. And he was good tonight. A couple of shots he usually makes didn’t fall. Living with those. And seeing how well he can score a basketball.
“He’ll keep shooting and they’ll get in. He’s getting those looks, he’s still as aggressive as he was, and I love our chances.”
This is the dual meaning of the Warriors feeling “totally” with Wiggins. They love his easygoing personality in the locker room and on the bench. He’ll work hard and laugh at everyone’s jokes and maybe quietly crack one or two of his own. But more importantly, for title hunting purposes, Wiggins has proven in the recent postseason that he can fill nearly all of the Warriors’ gaps—defending top players, breaking plates, hitting open shots, and creating a few snaps of his own.
They couldn’t have won a championship last year without him and they won’t have a chance this year without him. It’s very simple. And now they have. We’ve all seen it.
“He changed the dynamic of this team,” said Green.
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Before the final shot, the Warriors fell to a point, pulling a rare waste late in the game with 22 seconds to go, and got the ball to Stephen Curry when Kerr refused to call a timeout to allow the play to develop on an open field. Curry found Clay Thompson, who darted down the lane, drew the defense and fired it at Wiggins.
“Yeah, we’ll be taking this shot all day,” Kerr said. “Left corner 3, this is where it is.”
Immediately after the final bell, Kerr came up and spoke briefly to Wiggins, only to tell him it was good to have him back.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” Kerr said. “He’s very important to us. Most importantly, we love having him back in our locker room, competing with him. He’s been through a lot. We’re very happy that he’s back on the court again. It gives him a little bit of a haven, where he’s on the court with his mates.”
Wiggins has consistently said he came back because his family’s situation has stabilized, not necessarily for the timing of the playoffs. But he’s been smiling since returning to the team, and his teammates have been smiling too. They lost 0-1, but it was a good game, the Warriors felt complete, and were still in good spirits. Partly – or mainly – because this was the perfect time to welcome Wiggins back. Right at the start of another round that can go on for a long time.
“To be honest, I just came back because I felt like my situation had improved,” Wiggins said. “And I feel like it worked out perfectly. Because I don’t want to miss this moment.”
He may start in the second game. He will definitely get more moments to hit a big shot or play a giant defensive play. His teammates count on him, Wiggins counts on them and everyone who has Warriors would love that they can all do it again.
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(Photo by Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney defending Domantas Sabonis: Lauren Elliott/Getty Images)
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