SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green knew from the day the Golden State Warriors traded Andrew Wiggins in 2019 that he could be a valuable player for a championship-challenged team.
“We looked at the trade from the very beginning as if he was a guy who can fit into a healthy group really well,” Green said.
Green recalled when Tom Thibodeau, then without an NBA coaching job, visited the Warriors and vouched for Wiggins, and via Thibodeau’s deep, booming voice, Jimmy Butler gave the ultimate endorsement.
“When he (Wiggins) first came here, and I’ll never forget, it was when Thibs wasn’t with the Knicks, and Thibs was like, ‘You’re gonna like him. He’s competing . He defends,'” Green said. “And he was telling us that Jimmy loved him. And we all know how Jimmy Butler is. If you’ve got sweetness going for you, Jimmy doesn’t love you. That’s how Jimmy gets cut.”
POINTS TO REMEMBER FROM GAME 5:Warriors on brink of NBA title after beating Celtics
SPORTS NEWSLETTER:Get the latest news and analysis delivered to your inbox
Wiggins entered the NBA Finals MVP discussion with another terrific performance on Monday. He had a team-high 26 points and 13 rebounds — his second straight double-double — and added two assists, two steals and a block in Golden State’s 104-94 Game 5 win over Boston. of the NBA Finals.
The Warriors have a 3-2 series lead and can claim their fourth championship in eight seasons with one more win over the Celtics.
Wiggins’ 17-point, 16-point effort in Game 4 came in a contest in which Steph Curry had 43 points. Curry struggled in Game 5, just 16 points on 9-for-22 shooting, and he missed all nine of his 3-point attempts, the first time he hasn’t made a 3 in 133 playoff games in career.
“He’s found such a pivotal role on our team, and I think that empowers him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He knows how much we need him, so he’s been fantastic.”
On a night when Curry was ordinary, Wiggins was extraordinary. His 10 fourth-quarter points came during a streak in which Golden State took a 75-74 lead early in the fourth quarter to 99-84 on their dunk with 2:10 left in the game.
“I was out there being aggressive,” said the underrated Wiggins. “It was a good game.”
In the Finals, Wiggins is averaging 18.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks and is shooting 45.8% from the field and 25% on 3-point range. By comparison, Curry is averaging 30.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals and shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3-point range.
Curry is the Finals MVP favorite.
But Wiggins’ contributions can’t be ignored, and the Celtics have no answers for his rebound and scoring inside the 3-point line. He cuts, shoots, defends and rebounds and became the scoring option the Warriors desperately needed after falling 2-1 in the series.
“The bigger the challenge we threw in front of him, the more he responded,” Green said. “You want a guy like that. When the scene gets big, they react and play their best basketball, and that’s what he does.”
The Warriors acquired Wiggins, the first pick in the 2014 draft, in 2019 – a transformational time for the franchise. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn in free agency, and Klay Thompson was not going to play in 2019-20 after suffering a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals against Toronto.
“We knew we needed his athleticism, his defense and his versatility,” Kerr said. “We had no idea he would make that kind of contribution. But I think it’s a reminder that for every – almost every – player in the NBA, circumstances matter. You kind of have to find the right one. place, good teammates, that sort of thing. Wiggs was a great choice.
Not that Wiggins’ situation in Minnesota was bad. There just hasn’t been a lot of team success. The Timberwolves traded him to a better situation.
“Great people here challenging you,” Wiggins said. “They hold you accountable. The support system, everyone on this team, this organization, they support you and they want to see you do good, and they put you in a position to do good.
“I play basketball, and I play hard, and I feel like people respect that. And I just try to win. In the end, whatever it takes or what they need of me, I’m here to help them win.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.