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Winning Wiggins: Warriors All-Stars shine in NBA Finals | Basketball

BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball columnist

BOSTON (AP) — Critics of Andrew Wiggins have always focused on what they thought he was not.

According to them, he is not determined enough to be the first number in the draft. They claimed they were just not good enough to be an All-Star.

Another victory for the Golden State Warriors, and all that will matter is who Wiggins is: an NBA champion.

“He shines in the brightest stages of the playoffs. You can tell how much he’s enjoying it,” fellow All-Star Stephen Curry said Wednesday. “It’s just amazing to see how everything works in his favor in terms of dispelling all the narratives around him and who he is as a basketball player. right before your eyes.”

The Warriors won two games in a row to take a 3-2 lead in Game 6 on Thursday, and Wiggins is as big a reason as anyone else. The Canadian forward had 17 points and a career-high 16 rebounds in Game 4, followed by 26 points and 13 rebounds.

Wiggins recorded a double-double in a row just once in his career before doing so in the biggest two games he ever played.

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“It’s always great to be able to showcase what you’re capable of, what you’ve been working on,” Wiggins said. “So I’m just happy to be here on the biggest stage and help my team win.”

Even those who wanted to fire Wiggins had to admit that he could have scored. The No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft was averaging 16.9 points when he won the Rookie of the Year award, and he never scored below 17 points per game again. But it rarely resulted in a win: Minnesota had only made the playoffs once while he was there, and it was easy to wonder what else was in Wiggins’ game besides points.

It turns out there are many.

Coach Steve Kerr is surprised at how well Wiggins rebounds. On defense, the 6-foot-tall Wiggins took on tough challenges, doing everything he could to hold off Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic in the Western Conference Finals and now taking turns playing against Celtics swingers Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

It’s a versatility that the Warriors said they were aware of, no matter how much it went unnoticed by others.

“He took on all the challenges we gave him and it was great,” said Draymond Green. “And we need him to do that for another win.”

Skepticism of Wiggins followed him into the NBA after he scored just four points in his final college game as Kansas lost to Stanford in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. He only fired six shots, a pitiful effort that raised questions about how hard he was willing to work when things weren’t going well.

But Greene said that Tom Thibodeau, the current Knicks coach who led the Timberwolves to their only playoff appearance with Wiggins, assured him that the Warriors would love how hard Wiggins defends and competes.

They acquired Wiggins in February 2020 along with a first-round pick when they traded D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota. Wiggins played well enough to be voted into his first All-Star Game of the season, though even that didn’t earn him the credit he lacked. Wiggins was considered the player mistakenly chosen as the No. 1 option in Minnesota, and the reason he played well for Golden State was because he didn’t have that kind of burden on a Curry-led team.

However, as Curry struggled in Game 5, dropping all nine 3-pointers, Wiggins looked like a major player.

Curry is likely to remain NBA Finals MVP if the Warriors win the series. But Wiggins at least made it a discussion rather than a foregone conclusion.

“It’s amazing what you do with an opportunity,” Curry said. “Take away the comparisons, stories about him as the first pick, about how everyone wanted him to be, what his first six years in the league looked like. There’s a reason we wanted him to be here. There’s a reason trading made sense to us. There was a lot of hope that he could figure it out at this level in terms of his scoring ability, his athleticism, his defensive potential, just taking him to the next level.”

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