In the fourth game of the season, with Stephen Curry being defended by half the population of Oklahoma and the Warriors longing for an alternative source of energy, Andrew Wiggins arrived.
With most of Curry’s teammates struggling on offense and defense Tuesday night, Wiggins emerged from his early-season hibernation to pull the Warriors to a 106-98 victory over the stubborn but profoundly deficient Thunder.
With the Warriors playing from behind most of the night – by as much as 15 points – Wiggins did a little bit of everything required to complete the comeback, from getting timely buckets to snatching a timely steal to dishing a fine dime for a crucial 3-pointer.
The game wasn’t locked up until a Wiggins drive resulted in a short push shot that provided the last of his 21 points, giving the Warriors a 10-point cushion with 1:33 remaining.
Though Curry scored a team-high 23 points, he only scored seven after halftime and was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter, because Damion Lee and Wiggins each put in 13 second-half points on a combined 11-of-17 shooting. Lee mostly used his 3-ball and Wiggins shifted into overdrive, blasting his way to the rim.
“He really scored well for us, going to the rim,” coach Steve Kerr said of Wiggins. “We needed that aggression. He’s our best guy in terms of attacking the rim and getting into the paint. We needed that tonight.”
It’s the kind of thing the Warriors will need if they are to succeed, particularly as Klay Thompson continues to rehab and especially on a night when Curry is so consistently harassed that he managed to launch only 14 field-goal attempts in 32 minutes. Aside from Curry and Lee (20 points in 26 minutes off the bench), the Warriors were 6-of-24 from distance.
Wiggins was 0-of-5 from deep, but his 9-of-12 shooting inside the arc balanced the offense and, in time, defenders were leaning his way and leaving other Warriors open. In addition to his scoring, the seventh-year forward added four assists, three steals and a block.
Most of Wiggins’ damage was done at closing time, as he contributed six points, three assists and one steal over the final nine minutes – while playing solid defense on the very hot Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who finished with a game-high 30 points but got up only four shots in the fourth quarter.
“Wiggs was great at both ends,” Kerr said. “He did a good job on Shai. Once Shai got going, he had some good possessions against him, trying to pressure him.”
The Warriors went on a 24-10 run over the final eight minutes of the third quarter that began with a 31-second sequence in which Wiggins blocked a Lu Dort shot, recovered the ball and on the other end drove for a layup.
The crucial element of Wiggins’ game is aggression. He tends to be most productive when he is in attack mode.
That was a rare sight through the first three games, during which 16 of Wiggins’ 38 field-goal attempts (42.1 percent) were from beyond the arc. Though he was shooting 43.8 percent from distance, he often settled for the semi-contested jumpers that left him on the outskirts of the action. He too often was a non-factor in the flow of the game.
It’s one thing if 42 percent of Curry’s shots are for triples, quite another if Wiggins maintains that ratio. Put simply, the Warriors rarely benefit.
That’s why the Warriors were encouraged to see Wiggins, his 3-ball out of order, put the ball on the floor and bully his way to the cup. It put him in the heat of the game. His determination was essential to a Golden State victory.
It was vital to victory, and there is no doubt every coach and teammate would like more of that from Wiggins in the coming weeks.