The stage was set Wednesday night for Andrew Wiggins to remind the Warriors and the rest of the world, as he so valiantly strived to do earlier this season, that his reputation for underperformance was indeed dead and buried.
He was 72 hours past his lowest-scoring game this season, three points in 22 minutes in a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s plenty motivation. He’s the team’s No. 2 scorer and would have a more significant role in the offense, because Kelly Oubre Jr. was in street clothes.
And Wiggins’ defensive assignment was, for once, not particularly challenging.
But on national TV, in his team’s hour of need, against an opponent in a similar place in the playoff race, Wiggins did not meet the challenge. And the Warriors left Oregon with a 108-106 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Warriors take a second consecutive loss, Blazers win the season series, Steph Curry wastes 35 points, Wiggins squanders an opportunity.
“We just need more scoring in general from anybody other than Steph,” coach Steve Kerr said, avoiding any mention of names. “He’s generating everything for us, on or off the ball. Without Kelly tonight, it took away one of our best scorers.
“We don’t necessarily need scoring from one position. We just need people to step up, night in and night out, and provide some extra scoring for us so we’re not relying solely on Steph.”
Curry handled his business, making 13-of-28 shots, including 5-of-14 from deep and appreciably outplaying Damian Lillard (22 points, 6-of-17 shooting) for all but the decisive final two minutes.
But while Lillard was getting significant help from 36-year-old legend Carmelo Anthony, who came off the bench to score 22 points on 13 shots in 32 minutes, no other Warrior contributed more than 14 points.
That was Wiggins, who shot 6-of-15 from the field and spaced his production fairly evenly over all four quarters: two in the first, four in the second, three in the third, five in the fourth.
The Warriors needed more. From somebody. And, considering his place in the team’s scoring hierarchy, it should be Wiggins.
But the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, one game after being practically invisible against the Lakers, was mostly gusto-free. He took a few shots, but did not come at the Blazers with the necessary amount of urgency. In a game that could have boosted Golden State’s serenity, he lived down to his image as a cruiser.
Curry is having the kind of season that puts his name in the MVP conversation. But he needs support, particularly on offense.
“Hopefully, I’ll give a lot of guys unreal confidence when they’re out there to make plays. To be aggressive, to look for their shot and create offense,” he said. “That’s how we have to approach it with the roster that we have and the style that we like to play. Everybody contributing, and having confidence with everybody on the floor knowing they’re capable of scoring, they’re capable of putting pressure on the defense.”
That’s the opening Wiggins has. This team needs him. It surely needed him in this game, and thought he was ready to bring it.
Wiggins spent the first six weeks of the season doing a tremendous job of image rehab. He found space on the floor, mostly Curry’s presence, and was thriving. His 3-point shot was as sweet as it has ever been. He took and hit some big shots. And, man, has Wiggins drawn raves for his spirited defense -- all deserved.
Which is why this performance has to be profoundly disappointing for the Warriors, who have consistently stated an intention to retain Wiggins as part of their future.
Wiggins’ shot accuracy has tumbled in recent weeks, and that has brought back the skeptics, those who see him as soft and consider his early season success something of a mirage.
On this night, he offered testimony on behalf of their case.