SAN FRANCISCO –Andrew Wiggins’ strategy in slowing down Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night at Chase Center sounds simple. Like so many other plans in sports –whether it be from players, coaches or the front office –it’s always easier said than done.
“Just make him work, that was the main thing,” Wiggins said after the Warriors’ 25-point blowout win. “Ninety-four feet, just make him work. Pick him up, make it tough for him.”
Wiggins and the rest of the Warriors’ defense gave Dončić and his teammates a night to forget. In four games against Golden State in the regular season, three wins for Dallas, Dončić averaged 31.5 points while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 38.2 percent on 3-pointers. He missed the first three games of the playoffs with a strained calf, but didn’t miss a beat upon his return and entered the conference finals averaging 31.5 points on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 34.7 percent from deep.
Dončić’s final numbers in his fifth crack at the Warriors this season didn’t finish close to the prior dominance.
He led the Mavs with 20 points, his lowest total of the playoffs and his fewest since scoring 15 points two months ago in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Dončić made six of his 18 shots, and made three of his 10 3-point attempts The 23-year-old had more turnovers (seven) than made field goals, and his game-low minus-30 in plus-minus was the second-worst of his All-Star season.
Going into halftime, the Warriors led by nine points. Wiggins, Draymond Green and the rest of Golden State’s defense clamped down even tighter on Dončić once the third quarter began. He scored two points, made one shot and had six turnovers in 16 second- half minutes.
Before the playoffs began, Wiggins didn’t mince his words. He knew this is where you get remembered, especially with a team like the Warriors, one full of future Hall of Famers and a handful of championship trophies in the past. Wiggins stayed even. -keel with his answers prior to the West finals starting up, but there’s no doubt he was well-aware he was about to face his biggest test yet.
Instead of letting the answers come to him, he attacked them the moment they hit the page. Wiggins was willing to pick up Dončić the full length of the floor. When asked if he was tired, Wiggins smiled and scoffed at the question. There’s no time to be tired when your only focus is winning.
“I don’t really get too tired,” Wiggins said. “I’m locked in, I’m motivated and when you see it work or I feel like it’s helping us play better, it just motivates me to do it more. I’m not tired or nothing.
“You know, it’s adrenaline. I just feel good.”
Wiggins certainly wasn’t alone in the Warriors making a loud statement. They threw the kitchen sink at the Mavs and refused to let them get comfortable. Dončić might see man-to-man one time down, and then box-and-1 the next time. The Warriors gave him a handful of different zone looks to maneuver and all had different levels of success.
The Warriors held Dončić to 16.7 percent on contested field-goal attempts, never letting him get a clean look.
That was the goal for Game 1, and it will remain the same as the series goes on.
“Yeah, they did a really good job, Wiggins picking him up full-court,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “They were box-and-one, went zone. But they did a good job. Give them credit. Wiggins did. a really good job. We understood coming into the series that we were going to see that.
“We’ll go back and look at the video and see what we can do better.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr used the word “hound” with what he was looking for Wiggins to do to Dončić. His assessment of Wiggins’ defensive game was “fantastic.” Klay Thompson feels Wiggins is able to be himself on the Warriors, and Wiggins said his time since being traded to Golden State in February of 2020 has allowed him to “see a different side of the game.”
He doesn’t have to be the No. 1 option carrying multiple players on his back with hopes his team can come out victorious. Being surrounded by the talent the Warriors possess has allowed Wiggins to truly showcase the strength, length and athleticism that made him the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft eight years ago.
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When the Warriors needed scoring in the first half, Wiggins provided 15 points and ended with 19. When they needed a pest and a defensive stop, he buckled down and made life as difficult as can be for one of the game’s great young stars. Wiggins. was a game-high plus-28, and now is a combined plus-99 in the Warriors’ nine playoff wins.
For the majority of his career, the last thing Wiggins has been associated with is being a winning player. He continues to prove that thought process to be wrong, and being a key piece to bringing the Warriors a dub is at the forefront of his priorities ..
“Everything right now is very detailed,” Wiggins said. “Everything matters and just doing everything I can to help win, regardless of what the task is or what the challenge is, I’m going to try my best.”
Slap that gold star on the fridge. This performance was more than a participation trophy, it was a winner’s ribbon with room for more to come. One won’t be enough against Dončić and the Mavs.
Wiggins and the Warriors know this reality, and he’s ready for another marathon come Friday night in front of the home fans.
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