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NBA Finals: Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins emerges as second star next to Stephen Curry in Game 4 win vs. Celtics

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Heading into the NBA Finals — and dating back to the start of the season, really — there was quite a lot of discuss who could be the Golden State Warriors’ second-best player. Stephen Curry, we knew, would bring it on a nightly basis, and he’s exceeded expectations against the Boston Celtics thus far with masterpiece after masterpiece.

But who’s the second guy? Could we get a vintage Klay Thompson performance? Would Draymond Green return to his playmaking, tempo-pushing, Defensive Player of the Yr, rabble-rousing self? Or wouldn’t it be Jordan Poole, the nascent Padawan whose scoring eruptions are occasionally as difficult to extinguish as Curry’s?

Pssst. You guys. Andrew Wiggins has been right here all along.

Wiggins has quietly — quite literally, the guy barely speaks — emerged because the Warriors’ second-best player this postseason, and it’s not likely close when you concentrate on each ends of the ground.

In what amounted to a must-win Game 4 in Boston’s TD Garden on Friday night, Wiggins put up 17 points and pulled down a career-high 16 rebounds in a team-high 44 minutes. At plus-20 for the night, he gracefully played Mercutio to Curry’s Romeo performance of 43 points and 10 rebounds on 7-for-14 3-point shooting, because the Warriors pulled out a gritty, inspiring 107-97 win to tie the series at 2-2.

“Wiggs was unbelievable,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the sport. “To go against Boston, you’ve to take care of [Jayson] Tatum and [Jaylen] Brown, and so they are only powerful, expert players. Great size. They’re coming downhill at you continuously, so we needed to have Wiggs on the market. I believed he was great defensively. … We wanted every little bit of Wiggs’ contributions.”

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As Kerr said, with Wiggins, it’s rarely concerning the offense. His primary purpose, because it has been all season, is to relentlessly hound the opposing team’s best perimeter player — at this point, it’s hard to consider he was considered a weak defender in five-plus seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves to begin his profession.

On this series, Wiggins’ responsibility has been Jayson Tatum, the first-team All-NBA forward who entered the series averaging 27 points on 45 percent shooting this postseason. After an 8-for-23 performance in Game 4, Tatum is now averaging 22.3 points within the Finals on 34 percent shooting. Much of that has to do with Wiggins, who has used his length, strength and technique to maintain Tatum off his pet spots and contest his drives without fouling. Tatum is shooting just 50 percent within the restricted area in the course of the Finals, in comparison with 68 percent within the regular season.

The defense within the clip below has turn into the norm for the Warriors: Wiggins staying attached to Tatum and funneling him in to assist, then using verticality to force him into difficult shots across the rim.

After the Warriors were hammered on the boards within the Game 3 loss, Wiggins made it his personal mission to hit the glass — and boy did he take it to the intense. He got here crashing in from the weak side with reckless abandon for 13 defensive rebounds, and likewise got here up with three offensive rebounds, none more essential than this put-back on Jordan Poole’s missed layup with just below five minutes remaining.

Marcus Smart had drained a 3-pointer to place Boston up 4 on the previous possession, so Wiggins’ layup cut the result in two. On the following Warriors possession, Thompson hit a 3-pointer that gave Golden State a lead it would not relinquish.

“I would like to win. I do know rebounding is a giant a part of that,” the soft-spoken Wiggins said after the Game 4 win. “I just need to win. And I feel like sometimes we play small. So I just attempt to go in there and rebound, help the team out.”

Offensively, Wiggins has largely abandoned the long mid-range shots that drew a lot analytics-based ire during his time in Minnesota. He made a career-high 39 percent from deep in the course of the regular season, which has dipped to a still-respectable 35 percent within the playoffs. But every occasionally, when the Warriors’ offense collapses and the shot clock runs down, they need someone who can get a bucket.

With multiple players harassing Curry, Thompson has been largely ineffective off the dribble, shooting just 28 percent on pull-up jumpers within the Finals. Wiggins leads the team in post-up efficiency in the course of the playoffs, going 6-for-12 from the sphere, giving the team one more weapon within the half-court. Though it doesn’t occur often, Wiggins can reliably come to the rescue with isolation or post-up creation when his team needs him, as he did on this fadeaway in the primary quarter of Game 4.

Put all of it together — the defense, the rebounding, the 3-point shooting, the shot creation — and you will have the Warriors’ second-best player this postseason. That is nothing latest for Wiggins, nonetheless, who has gone from a disappointing would-be franchise player as a No. 1 overall pick with the Timberwolves to a completely elite role player with a Warriors team that sits two wins away from its fourth NBA championship in eight seasons.

“Wiggs has done what he’s done all playoffs,” Green said after Game 4. “Make it tough for the opposing starter to attain. Got within the teeth of the defense. Rebounded the hell out of the ball, which he’s done all playoffs long.”

It’s clear that it is going to take a minimum of two more herculean efforts from Curry if the Warriors are going to beat what looks like, on paper a minimum of, a superior Celtics squad. But he cannot do it by himself. He needs a minimum of a few teammates to return along for the ride — and in the event you look up and down the roster, Wiggins is the one who’s been sitting shotgun with Curry on the wheel this whole time.

“All of us just got to do our part. We now have quite a lot of guys that may go in the sport and affect the sport in other ways, and straight away, all the things is required,” Wiggins said concerning the team’s mindset heading into Monday’s Game 5 in San Francisco. “Whatever anybody has to present, you do not need to look back a pair weeks from now and be like, ‘I must have done that, I must have done that.’ You have to go away all of it on the ground.”

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