Sports

Warriors’ Wiggins one win away from well-earned ring

Anyone who thought the Golden State Warriors would need another epic performance from Stephen Curry to have a chance to break their 2-2 tie with the Boston Celtics was wrong, which means just about everyone was.

After Curry reads up the Celtics for 43 in Game 4 with only minimal scoring help from his supporting cast, it looked like the blueprint was set. But in Game 5 the Celtics came out trying to take Curry out of the game by face guarding away from the ball, not unlike the Toronto Raptors did to him in the 2019 NBA Finals. And it worked. Curry finished with a series-low 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting and failed to make a three — he was 0-of-9 from deep — in a game for the first time since Nov. 8, 2008.

Amazingly, it didn’t matter in what turned out to be an impressive 104-94 Golden State win to put them up 3-2 in the series with Game 6 set for Boston on Thursday. The Warriors’ defense was spectacular as they held Boston to 41.4 per cent shooting and forced 18 turnovers for 22 points. And Curry got the help he needed offensively as Klay Thompson showed up with 21 points and Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II combined for 29 off the bench.

Oh, and Andrew Wiggins had a career night, as we’ll cover in the takeaways:

Andrew Wiggins, a star in his role

This was not the way it was supposed to happen. Wiggins was supposed to have lifted Minnesota to new heights as the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. He was ordained. He earned rookie-of-the-year honors and in his third season averaged 23.6 points a game as a 21-year-old.

But that never quite worked out and Wiggins found himself with the Warriors after the Timberwolves had to give up what turned out to be the seventh pick in the 2021 draft in a deal that brought them D’Angelo Russell.

Minnesota wanted to be rid of him. He was a failed leading man, and thus expendable. But the Warriors narrowed Wiggins’ job description: Prioritize defense while either spotting up for threes offensively or making hard cuts into space vacated by Curry. In the Finals, Wiggins has been tasked with rebounding too and he’s stepped up like never before — his 16 rebounds in Game 4 were a career-high.

Wiggins has always had an extra gear, a knack for the moment — big games against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers who traded him on draft night are one example. The problem has always been the moments when he shifts it into overdrive don’t come often enough. But Wiggins is putting together a Finals full of them now, and a playoff run full of them, too.

Wiggins followed up his impressive 17 and 16 outing in a must-win Game 4 with 26 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5 — the first time he’s had consecutive double-doubles in his career — to put the Warriors in the driver’s seat on a night when they desperately needed a spark of offense from someone other than Curry.

In the first half Wiggins was the Warriors’ best player, taking advantage of all the extra attention the Celtics were giving Curry as they essentially played a box-and-one and challenged the rest of the Warriors to create enough offense with him taken out of the play.

Wiggins stepped up.

He scored 16 points in the first half to lead all scorers and his seven rebounds led the Warriors. But the games are long, and Wiggins’ opportunity to really have a breakout game seemed to sputter as he couldn’t convert an almost endless supply of open looks from deep that were available to him. He finished 0-of-6 from deep, but Wiggins wasn’t finished.

There was a hard drive for a lay-up to start the fourth quarter and a great cut and left-handed finish midway through the period. And with the shot clock winding down there was a running hook across the lane and then a jump hook over the Celtics’ Robert Williams. The finishing touch was a full-speed dunk with 2:10 left that put the Warriors up by 15 and closed the door on any hopes of a comeback.

“Just attacking the rim. I got going early and it was in my mindset to stay aggressive and just start attacking,” Wiggins said after the game.

He was asked in the post-game interview what message he trying to send with his late dunk.

“We’re here. We’re here and we’re hungry. The team that wants it the most is gonna get it and we want it… I’m just trying to do every little thing to win, that’s it. Score, rebound , defend, anything I’m asked to do to help us win, I’m going to do.”

He was 5-of-6 in the fourth quarter and lifted the Warriors to the win. Should Golden State close it out in Game 6 or 7, Wiggins’ ring will be well-earned.

Celtics drought continues

Through the first four games of the series, the Celtics’ much-vaunted defense had held up just fine. They were holding the Warriors to 105 points on a True Shooting percentage of 56.5. In the regular season the Warriors averaged 111 points a game and in the Western Conference Finals they put up 115.2 points on 62.0 TS.

Even in Game 5, the Warriors only managed 104 points and the Celtics successfully bottled up Curry. It was Boston’s offense that was the problem.

In Game 4 when the Celtics needed to match up with a red-hot Curry they scored just six points in the final 7:32 of the game, going 2-of-12. It was no different in Game 5 as Boston shot just 4-of-15 with the game in the balance and turned the ball over four times.

“There’s a lot of things we wish we would have done differently, especially on the offensive end,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said after Game 4. “I think we just got way too stagnant late in the fourth from everybody.”

It’s been the Celtics’ Achilles heel. As dominant a regular season as Boston had, the Celtics ranked 26th in net rating (minus-9.5) in the regular season and in 12 playoff games in which the game was within five points in the final five minutes, they were even worse, with has minus-14.2 net rating.

In the early going Monday, the Celtics’ offense picked up where they had left off as they scored just 16 points in the first quarter and set a Finals record by missing their first 12 threes. And although they showed some life in the second quarter, they were still trying to explain to themselves why they had given up nine first-half turnovers that led to 13 Warriors points.

Boston was impressive in the third as they turned the tables on the Warriors’ favorite quarter, but then shot just 1-of-9 to start the fourth as the ball become sticky and the Celtics resorted to either quick-shot threes or drives into crowds . Finding a rhythm under pressure offensively has to be the Celtics’ goal between now and Game 6.

Tatum lives up to his word … almost

“I got to be better,” Tatum said after another sub-standard performance in Game 4. Through four games of the finals, Tatum was shooting just 34.3 per cent from the field, including a brutal 14-of-51 (27.5 per cent ) from inside the arc.

The Warriors were using Wiggins as their primary defender on him but weren’t shy about selling out to help on the Celtics star, particularly on his drives. They’ve had success turning him over when he drives left and in general have benefitted from his struggles playing in a crowd.

Tatum was much better in Game 5.

Even as the Celtics’ offense was floundering early on, Tatum found a way to knock in three buckets. In the second quarter as Boston was beginning to right the ship, Tatum added three more scores and in the third as the Celtics were fighting for their lives — trailing by 12 and looking at the possibility of the Warriors’ traditional third-quarter avalanche — Tatum instead led a Celtics comeback with three quick triples as Boston cut the Warriors lead to one to start the fourth quarter.

Tatum had 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting at that point but, in the end, he will have to do more soul searching. There were two missed free throws as the Warriors were threatening to pull away down the stretch. An air ball on a turnaround over Wiggins and another short-armed jumper over Draymond Green. He was 1-of-5 from the floor in the fourth, which—along with his four turnovers—takes the edge off his otherwise impressive line of 27 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

Draymond Green’s glitches

The Warriors’ do-everything big man is at heart a role player. He’s not on the floor to score or command the offense. He’s a defensive wizard who passes like a point guard on offense and has made an art of freeing up Curry and Klay Thompson with his screens and dribble hand-offs.

Scoring is not really in his job description. But come on. Green has been so bad offensively — he came into Game 5 shooting 6-of-26 from the floor, an anemic 23 per cent, with most of his misses at point-blank range. He had yet to make a three.

Even his mother was tweeting about it. “I DON’T KNOW! Maybe this is a CLONE” it read, before being deleted.

Being that bad offensively threatened to sweep aside any of Green’s other contributions. With Warriors head coach Steve Kerr having to limit Green’s playing time, his play was becoming a distraction.

Fortunately, in Game 5, Green decided to show up. Maybe getting called out by his mom was all it took.

In the first quarter alone Green had two lay-ups — one a driving dunk on a faked handoff — and two assists. By halftime, Green had added another hoop when he drove the lane in a rare one-on-one take, pulled up and buried a floater. He got to the line and made both his free throws.

It was all the most important because Kevon Looney—who many thought should be eating up more of Green’s minutes—had picked up three quick fouls.

Green’s defensive energy was ramped up as well, as he helped the Warriors hold the Celtics to 39 points on 39 per cent shooting in the first half. There were still glitches: Green crowded out with just under three minutes left — the third time he’s crowded out in five games. But he sat down with eight points, eight rebounds and seven assists — his best game of the series so far.

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