There is a purpose behind every decision Draymond Green makes on the basketball court, and there is no question one he made Monday came after some deliberation on the immediate future of the Warriors.
With the Warriors opening the fourth quarter holding a 95-80 lead over the New Orleans Pelicans, Green got into the ear of Andrew Wiggins.
“I actually said to him before we left the huddle, ‘Hey, man, take over the game right now,’” Green said after the 123-108 victory at Smoothie King Center.
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Aware that both Stephen Curry and Green would be watching the first few minutes of the quarter from the bench, Wiggins complied. A mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer, both in the first minute. A driving layup. Another triple. He scored Golden State’s first 10 points of the quarter, keeping New Orleans at bay until the return of the Curry-Green duo.
Knowing how badly the Warriors need Wiggins to summon the top of his game, particularly with Kelly Oubre Jr. possibly out for the season, Draymond presented the 26-year-old forward with a license to thrill.
“I knew if we’re able to hold onto the lead, the game is kind of over,” Green said. “He went out there, attacked, got every shot that he wanted. Didn’t settle. It was great to watch.”
Wiggins’ response is what the Warriors need if they are to continue their rise in the Western Conference standings -- they’ve moved from 10th to eighth over the past four days -- and have any chance of making noise in the play-in tournament and beyond.
Golden State Warriors
Green’s words reverberated even during Wiggins’ postgame session with media.
“Be aggressive. Attack and just dominate,” Wiggins said matter-of-factly. “Draymond, he told me to take over the fourth. So, that‘s what I did. I tried to go in there and get everyone involved. I was in attack mode the whole time.”
Wiggins in attack mode is the one the Warriors like most. He finished with 26 points, supporting the 41 totaled by Curry. But that fourth-quarter flurry, 10 points in a little more than three minutes, was an ultra-welcome sight.
“It’s huge,” Curry said. “It’s a boost for us, but it’s a boost for him because he is capable of doing that. We expect him to do that, to be aggressive and look for his shot. To be ‘the man’ out there, especially if he’s with the second unit. He’s featured.
“He’s got that capability. We want that aggressiveness from him. We want that killer instinct to come out.”
If you’ve followed Wiggins’ career, you know “killer instinct” is not a phrase generally associated with him. He is widely seen as someone who doesn’t care as much as he should, a No. 1 overall draft pick (2014) who too often glides when he should soar and jogs when he should sprint. He has heard all of this, and more. So have the Warriors.
What makes this even a debate is that the instances when Wiggins frustrates are about as frequent as those when he takes command. When he is the best player on the floor.
Which was the case during a crucial stretch Monday night.
“I think he felt the moment,” Curry said. “The first three or four minutes of that fourth, it could go either way. We could keep our cushion and seal the deal, or they could make it a game. He had something to say about it.”
Wiggins is an imperfect player, but he does not lack drive. By all accounts, he constantly works to improve his game. His defense is vastly improved since coming to the Warriors; he was more pleased with his work on Brandon Ingram (19 points, 5-of-11 shooting) than his offense
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But he is more reliable than at any time in his career.
The Warriors can live with all of this, as long as Wiggins is assertive. Whether he had that capacity was questioned in Minnesota and the stigma stuck to him upon arrival in the Bay.
But there was Wiggins, out for blood at a time when the Warriors needed someone to put a foot on the Pelicans.
“It wasn’t by accident that he was falling into shots,” Curry said, recalling the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. “He was searching for them. He was looking to take control of those possessions.”
Now that Wiggins has a license, informally granted by a three-time champion representing the soul of the team, to grow fangs and strike, there is the question of whether he can take advantage. If he does, the Warriors can keep climbing.
If not, well, this is the kind of license can be suspended for negligence or revoked for disuse.