DALLAS — As Andrew Wiggins took off from just inside the free throw line, as his body met Luka Doncic’s in the air, as his head reached above the cylinder, the Golden State Warriors forward said he saw just one thing: « I just saw rhyme. »
His poster on the Dallas Mavericks star was originally called as a charge, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr swiftly challenged it, and the decision was overturned.
Wiggins doesn’t know where that dunk ranks in his collection, but Stephen Curry said it’s the best he has ever seen from his teammate. Klay Thompson said Wiggins looked like Dominique Wilkins.
« That was impressive, I’m not going to lie, » Doncic said of the poster. « I saw the video again, and I was like, ooh. That was pretty incredible. I wish I had those bunnies. »
Wiggins had a postseason career-high three dunks against the Mavericks on Sunday night as his performance sparked a 109-100 win by the Warriors and gave them a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
« If you can come in and play good basketball, you can essentially put a team away tonight, » Warriors forward Draymond Green said. « Now this team isn’t going to quit … but you can instill a lot of doubt with coming out and winning this game. And we knew that. »
Ask any NBA player and they’ll tell you the playoffs are different. The postseason has a different level of intensity and therefore requires a whole different level of play from individuals. Green elevates himself so much that the term « Playoff Draymond » has been coined for the way he performs.
Before this postseason run, Wiggins hadn’t had much experience in the playoffs. But through his 14 playoff games this year, he has proved to have a playoff level of his own.
On Sunday, he finished with 27 points — 18 of which came in the restricted area — on 11-of-20 shooting and 11 rebounds.
« That’s a guy who has been criticized for being lackadaisical and the beat goes on, you’ve heard it all, yet on the biggest stage, he’s come through, » Green said. « It’s great to see, absolutely amazing to see him pick up his level of play. »
Wiggins started the season playing with this same level of assertiveness and aggression. It’s what earned him his first-ever All-Star appearance — and as a starter, at that. Coming out of the break, he hit a lull. But his teammates say that’s normal.
« He’s worked so hard to get to this point, » Thompson said. « We’ve just got to help him become a champion, and he will obviously help us. What he did tonight … that’s what we brought him on for. He is such a talented player. I’m so grateful we have him . »
Kerr said the Warriors wouldn’t be winning playoff games without Wiggins, particularly this series against the Mavericks. In Game 3, Wiggins held Doncic to 8-of-15 shooting. Wiggins has been the best primary defender on Doncic all postseason, holding him to 53% shooting — Doncic’s lowest field goal percentage so far during these playoffs.
Heading into this series, the Warriors’ mindset for defending Doncic was understanding they probably couldn’t completely stop him but just to make sure everything he gets is earned, not given. That and also eliminate every other scoring option.
Doncic has now scored 40 points in two games, and yet Golden State leads the series 3-0.
But the Warriors have not started looking ahead to the NBA Finals. They have been in this position too many times to look too far ahead.
« This team won’t lay it down, » Thompson said. « We are going to have to go take it. They are not going to give it to us. Just going to have to just play together, play as a unit. Strength in numbers; that’s been our mantra. »
« That’s a guy who has been criticized for being lackadaisical and the beat goes on, you’ve heard it all, yet on the biggest stage, he’s come through. It’s great to see, absolutely amazing to see him pick up his level of play . »
Draymond Green on Andrew Wiggins
Looking at the odds, the Warriors are now the favorites to win the NBA championship. Ask Thompson and he says he believed that to be true from the moment this season tipped off.
But the same can’t be said for everyone else, especially outside of the Warriors locker room. This season was viewed as a building year — integrating their core of Curry, Thompson and Green with their newfound talent of Jordan Poole, James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga.
But then Otto Porter Jr. emerged as their most reliable veteran. Kevon Looney became an iron man. And Wiggins shed his label as a « lazy » player to become an All-Star.
All of that has led the Warriors to find themselves in a position that this franchise — albeit not all the players — is very familiar with: one game away from the Finals. But they won’t skip steps.
« Being one win away from the Finals means absolutely nothing, » Green said. « It means you have to win one more game, and we have to make sure we come in with an even better focus than we did tonight, which was incredible. Closeout games are always the toughest. We have to come out and win the game they are not going to give it to us. »