SAN FRANCISCO – There is little doubt the Warriors are delighted with knowing they’ve seen the last of the Cleveland Cavaliers this season.
But there is no question they should be downright giddy at the sight of Andrew Wiggins materializing before their longing eyes.
Wiggins’ slow climb out of early-season irrelevance continued Saturday night at Chase Center, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the Warriors to avoid a 118-110 loss to the longer and quicker Cavaliers, who suffocated Golden State’s offense while taking both games of the season series for the first time since Stephen Curry’s rookie season.
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But if losing one more game to Cleveland in November means getting more out of Wiggins in the months to come, the Warriors will take that swap.
This team needs Wiggins. On defense, yes, but also on offense. Not just against a nasty defensive team like the Cavs but against every squad the Warriors face. Curry, who scored a game-high 30 points, would welcome a scoring sidekick – at least until Klay Thompson finds a higher level of scoring efficiency.
The signs of a renewed Wiggins were encouraging. He was mostly locked in – mostly because there were several occasions when his focus seemed to slip. He was productive enough to post one of his most complete stat lines of the season: 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.
The Warriors, however, might want to bottle and preserve Wiggins’ first six minutes, during which he scored or assisted on their first 10 points and 12 of their first 15.
Golden State Warriors
An assist on the first bucket, a 3-pointer by Draymond Green. Assist on a Green layup. Assist on a Curry on a triple. A lay-in off a lob pass from Green. And, with 5:45 remaining, an emphatic follow slam off a missed 3-ball by Thompson that gave the Warriors their first lead.
“I wasn’t drawing up plays for him – it’s not about that,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s just about his energy, his aggressiveness. He’s been better the last couple games. He’s getting there.”
Wiggins’ 6-of-12 shooting from the field put him at 50 percent or higher for the fourth time in 10 games. He was 1 of 4 from deep, putting him at 2 of 13 since the calendar flipped to November and 4 of 24 this season. He has some serious catching up to do.
The eye test indicated Wiggins is digging deeper than he has at any time this season. He was hustling to deflect passes and on one occasion halted a Cleveland fast break by chasing down Donovan Mitchell and swiping his dribble out of bounds.
Wiggins was much less impactful in his final stint, with six fourth-quarter minutes as the Warriors comeback bid fizzled. Kerr emptied the bench with 2:12 left and the Warriors trailing by 14.
Maybe this evening is something Wiggins can carry into Sunday, when his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, invade Chase Center. He usually summons extra emotion when they visit.
That boost should come easy in this instance, as Wiggins should expect to spend plenty of time defending Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards.
Kerr is hoping to wish into existence a more productive Wiggins.
“The shots haven’t been going, but his on-ball defense has been really good,” Kerr said before tipoff. “In general, that’s the message when someone is struggling. Focus on what you can control, which is on-ball defense, general energy and rebounding. Because that’s where you lose yourself in those things and fall into some points, especially somebody as athletic as Andrew. The next shot feels easier when you’re able to do that.
“He’s trending in the right direction. I’m not worried about him.”
Curry is off to a terrific start. He has been Golden State’s leading scorer in all 10 games this season, which is a vivid illustration of the “Help Wanted” sign in the thought cloud above him.
Enter Wiggins, or so the Warriors hope. As soon as Sunday, if they have their way.