NBA

Thompson: If playoff Andrew Wiggins returns, Warriors loss to Suns was a win

Thompson: If playoff Andrew Wiggins returns, Warriors loss to Suns was a win

SAN FRANCISCO — The fourth quarter started with the warriors a drop of 19 points. Steve Kerr went with a small lineup, four wing players and Draymond Green in the center, to try to promote some kind of positivity.

visitor phoenixplaying without most of his key players, he did the opposite. Dario Saricat 6-foot-10, and Jock Landale, at 6-foot-11, anchored the Suns’ lineup to start the final stanza. And through some moves and screens, they were able to put Landale in the opposite post Andrew Wigginswho is about four inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter than the Suns’ center.

It worked like a charm. For Wiggins.

“They think because I’m skinny,” Wiggins said, cracking a smile. “I like hitting down there.”

Wiggins drew two offensive fouls on Landale, who tried to dominate the Warriors forward in the post. Being physical, offering endurance, having his strength and physique challenged, was like caffeine to his game.

Entering the fourth quarter, Wiggins was 4-for-12 from the field with 8 points. He was already in his second game and still not himself. So he locked in on the defensive end of the court and rocked back to a semblance of his championship version.

Before long, Landale was out of the game and Wiggins was picking up the full court. Phoenix had no base Chris Paulor its backup Cameron Payneor superstar Devin Booker. The reserves the Suns had on the court had their hands full with this version of Wiggins. energized aggressive effective

If there’s one silver lining to Tuesday’s 125-113 loss to Phoenix, one of the worst of the season, is the welcome sight of the Wiggins lock. It’s been a while. But it was a microcosm of the solution for the Warriors; intimacy with mediocrity. The change came in defense. The change coincided with an increase in urgency and desperation. The trade included the closing of Wiggins.

“My offense was so nasty,” Wiggins said, “I had to do something.”

Wiggins finished with five steals, four in the fourth quarter. His pressure was the spearhead of a defense that had the Phoenix linebackers scrambling to get the ball past half court. As a result, the Warriors nearly stole a game they trailed by 27.

Wiggins missed 15 games, most with an adductor injury and the last batch with an illness that ended his career. It was the most time he has lost in a single stage in his entire career. He missed 21 games in his first eight seasons. So this recent experience was new to him.

His expectation was that he would be back on the court and be himself soon after. For Wiggins, it just takes a few trips up and down. But this journey has been much more laborious. His inexperience with time off taught him a lesson about the difficulty of getting back into the fray. But in the most optimistic view after such a disappointing performance, Wiggins found his edge. And the Warriors desperately need it.

Stephen Curry is back They basically survived his shoulder injury absence. If this season comes, as many expect, it will start with him and Wiggins. Green held the fort while they were out. Klay Thompson has come to life Jordan Poole he needs them to come and divert some of the defense’s attention. Warriors need Playoff Wiggins next to MVP Curry. Tuesday’s loss might have been the jolt Wiggins needed.

“I think for him individually, and for anybody coming back from injury,” Curry said, “you have to remind your body what it’s like to reach that level of intensity. It’s so hard to fake it until and all in the practice or the splashes or the conditioning stuff you do. … Everybody responds to it differently. You have to remember what this level is like. A little shock the system to get over the hump so that every game you get a a little stronger, a little stronger. I think hopefully he felt it (Tuesday night) and he’s going to look a lot better.”

The Warriors now return to the road, where they have been terrible. They need Wiggins to find his form to change that trend.

Defense is the Warriors’ biggest problem on the road. this seasonindeed, but mostly on the road.

The Warriors are allowing 41.2 percent shooting from 3 on the road. Not more Saint Anthony3-point defense (42%) is worse. The Warriors allow 21.8 free throws made per game on the road, tied with Oklahoma City for the worst of N.B.A. Opponents shoot 49.7 percent when the Warriors are on the road, which is 27th in the NBA.

The problem is the perimeter defense. The Warriors haven’t been good at the point of attack, which starts a bevy of problems, including the 22.8 fouls they commit and the 33.5 open 3-pointers they allow per road game, according to NBA stats. They need Wiggins to change that, be the player he was in the playoffs. When Wiggins is that guy, Green can focus on manning the paint and being an elite help defender, rather than having to become the on-ball defender and leave the back end of the defense Warriors most vulnerable. When Wiggins is that guy, they don’t have to rotate as much, which means they have less of a chance to blow the rotation and leave a shooter open.

Wiggins hasn’t been that guy for much of this season, even before his injury. That was understandable. Championship hangovers are real. It’s hard to summon that level of intensity again just a few months after giving it your all. It made sense for Wiggins to pace himself.

It also made sense for him to find himself focusing on defense. Suddenly, on Tuesday night, he crashed the tables like we remember in the postseason. Suddenly, he felt like he was all over the floor. It started with having to fight in the paint with a center and take up the entire court on defense. Conditioning and energy have been difficult to maintain for Wiggins as he recovers and finds his rhythm. But he found a way to summon it against the Suns. He’s an incredible athlete and the Warriors just looked different when he unleashed him defensively.

“I just think,” Kerr said, “the level of ball pressure and intensity that he showed in the second half, especially (in the) fourth quarter, that’s what we need him to be. That’s how he was in the playoffs in ‘last year. After that long layoff, it hasn’t looked good until the fourth quarter. I actually told the coaches that I think this could be a good thing for us, honestly. You need to get a wake-up call . You have to remember how hard it is to win. And you have to understand the level of commitment to each other, to the game, that it takes to win a title. … Hopefully, this is the jolt we need to get going because the first half of the season has been full of stops and starts.”

The Warriors certainly need Wiggins’ offense as well. The Warriors’ offense has turned into a 3-point buffet as defenses pressure the perimeter looking to take out their best weapon. Instead of countering by attacking inside, as they did in the postseason, the Warriors have responded this season primarily by making harder 3s or moving back more. It’s the main reason why they are, at midseason, 19th in the NBA’s offensive rating, with 112.3 points per 100 possessions.

A big part of that is Curry’s absence. One of the elements he brings as one of the great offensive forces of all time is the versatility to attack in the center of the defense. He is the primary playmaker for the Warriors. Without him and Wiggins, it’s basically been Jordan Poole and You Jerome like players who can get from the perimeter to the teeth of the defense. And Poole, with the defensive pressure he’s under and his loneliness with basketball, has had his struggles to get there. Generally, the Warriors take the easy way out: shoot 3-pointers.

When Curry went down on Dec. 14, the Warriors were fifth in 3-point percentage. Since then, they have been 15th. It’s not exactly breaking news that they’re worse at shooting 3-pointers without Curry (and Wiggins, who is having a career year from behind the arc). But what has been problematic is that they average even more 3s without their best shooters. When Curry came out, they averaged 43.2 per game. Since then, 43.7.

Of the Warriors’ field goal attempts this season, 48.2 percent have been 3s. But in the postseason, when defenses are better and teams are hell-bent on taking their 3-pointer, just 43.3 percent of his shots were 3-pointers.

A big part of that was Wiggins being their counter to aggressive defenses looking to take 3s. He is one of the few 2-point specialists who can go for a bucket. He’s a pro scorer who can finish at the rim, hit mid-range jumpers and create shots for himself in isolation. He was ideal.

The Warriors need that Wiggins now. If the loss to Phoenix sparked his comeback, then it could be the best loss of the season.

GO FURTHER

Steph Curry returns, but Warriors still lose to depleted Suns

(Photo: Cary Edmondson/USA Today)





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