Stephen Curry was mesmerizing on Friday night. If the Golden State Warriors do go on to win their fourth NBA Championship in eight seasons, it will be one of the most memorable championship performances in league history. Curry, a generational talent and one of the NBA’s most popular players, responded when his team needed him most.
While that is all true, Curry needed somebody out there on the same vibe as him, someone who was not ready for the season to be on the line at home the following Monday. With Draymond Green struggling for most of the game, and Klay Thompson not providing much offensive support until the second half, the Warrior in battle by Curry’s side all night was Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds as the Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics, 107-97, to tie the series at two wins apiece. It wasn’t just the total, it was his activity the entire night. Wiggins has been giving Jayson Tatum fits all series as the primary defender on the Celtics’ first-team All-NBA star. For the series Tatum is shooting 34.1 percent from the field — a Finals record low for a player averaging 20 or more attempts. In Game 4, he took a couple of breaths while Nemanja Bjelica guarded Tatum, and then Wiggins got right back to work doing yeoman’s work on defense while Tatum shot 34.8 percent from the field. Wiggins also led the Warriors in minutes with just over 43 — three more minutes than Curry — and was the Warriors’ second-leading scorer until late in the fourth quarter with 17 points.
And Wiggins did it in the most important game of his career, as he’s been doing all postseason with strong elimination performances against the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks. It’s understandable why he told Yahoo Sports, “I’ve always been a competitor and wanted to win. That should never have been questioned.”
It’s what has been questioned about him most since he was a top recruit his freshman year at Kansas. A player who gets off the ground so fast it’s like someone pressed a button, he would go through long periods of inactivity on the court. It continued in the NBA in his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves as their No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014. He had some 20-plus-point-per-game seasons, but his defense was maligned more often than it was complemented and no one would’ve thought that he would haul in 16 rebounds in a game.
Then there was the infamous Jimmy Butler scrimmage. Remember, 2018 when that first trade to the Miami Heat fell through and Butler showed up to practice and owned it. He cursed out the whole team, while dominating the starters with third string players and only took one shot. After shredding his former team, he talked to former ESPN host Rachel Nichols about his problems with the organization. His problem was that his younger more talented teammates didn’t play as hard as he did.
“Who’s the most god-gifted player on our team? Wigs,” Butler said to Nichols. “Wigs got the longest arms, the biggest hands, can jump the highest, can run the fastest. But like who plays the hardest? Me. I play hard. I play really hard.”
That’s entering season five for Wiggins. During his seventh season, this former No. 1 overall pick was traded to the Golden State Warriors.
It takes a professional level of both athleticism and competitiveness to be in the NBA. Some players get by on one more than the other. Butler gets by more on competitiveness and that is why he was so upset with Timberwolves. Wiggins, for much of his career, has been the opposite. Butler felt like that made him a better player, and he still is a better player than Wiggins.
However, for the first half of the regular season, and for the 2022 NBA postseason, we’ve seen Butler-like effort from Wiggins. Without him, at best, the Warriors’ season is already over after a four-game sweep to the Celtics. As great as Curry has been, Finals MVP great, team sports don’t work without help. Wiggins is giving him, the Warriors, and the Celtics everything he has on every possession. It doesn’t erase what happened before in his career, but it will change how people talk about him going forward.