SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For the second year in a row, the Golden State Warriors entered the playoffs on the verge of finally being a whole team again. Last season, it was their best player who was returning. This season, it was their X factor.
Andrew Wiggins made his return Saturday night in Game 1 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Sacramento Kings, giving Golden State back what it considers the missing piece to its puzzle despite the Game 1 loss.
“When you go through all the decisions to put a roster together, all of the pieces have to fit,” Stephen Curry said. “He’s a big part of everything we do. When you go into a season, you want to be as fully healthy as possible because that’s the way all the pieces are meant to fit. We haven’t had it for a very long time and we tried to hold down the fort. Now we have that look back.”
Saturday was Wiggins’ first game since Feb. 13, after he missed two months because of a family matter. Even with the long layoff, Wiggins appeared comfortable.
In 28 minutes, he finished with 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and four blocked shots, including three in the first half — tied for the most in any half of his career. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the plan was to have Wiggins play the closing five to six minutes of each quarter and the rest at the top of the following period. Kerr did not indicate if this would be the plan for Wiggins in Game 2.
“So awesome to have him back,” Kerr said. “You know, we’re whole with him out there. Our team makes sense with Wiggs back. I thought he looked really good. The first half was amazing, second half he maybe wore down a little bit, which is to be expected, given he hasn’t played in a game in over two months. He was fantastic.”
Klay Thompson added: “I am so proud of Wiggs. To miss three months in NBA basketball and do what he did tonight is so impressive. Barely breaks a sweat.”
And just as the Warriors brought Curry off the bench when he returned in their first-round series against the Nuggets last season, Wiggins came off the bench against the Kings.
It was his first time coming off the bench in the 662 games he has played in his eight-season career — including regular season and playoffs.
“It’s tough just dealing with your own emotions because there’s a lot of adrenaline, a lot of anxiousness to get back out there on the floor,” Curry said. “The one thing you do have is the experience and knowing what that atmosphere is like. … You can go into the memory bank on what to expect and build confidence from there. … Then you take that momentum and turn it into even more energy for Game 2.”
Wiggins said he felt good following Saturday’s game. As he walked to the news conference room he said he was tired, but that his body didn’t feel winded or out of shape. During the game, his instincts and physical skills were there. What was missing was his shot — he went 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
With 10.8 seconds left and Golden State trailing by one, Thompson began driving toward the hoop, drawing defenders in with him. He kicked the ball out to the left corner, where Wiggins was waiting unattended.
Wiggins launched the shot but hit the front of the rim. Even with that miss, the Warriors didn’t have any problems with the shot choice.
“I’ll take that shot every day of the week,” Thompson said.
Added Kerr: “Take that shot all day long. Left corner 3, that’s his spot.”
Otherwise, Kerr was critical of some of the attempts the Warriors took against the Kings. But Golden State doesn’t believe shot selection was the reason it let Game 1 slip away.
Sacramento grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and scored 21 second-chance points, most of them in the second half. At the end of the third quarter, the Kings’ work on the offensive glass helped fuel a 15-4 run to come back from a 10-point deficit. They entered the fourth quarter up by one. That offensive rebounding, the Warriors say, was the defining statistic of the game.
Heading into Game 2, fixing that is the main adjustment the Warriors are looking to make.
“We thrive in these situations,” Curry said of making game-to-game adjustments. “It’s so different than the regular season because you are playing the same team and that little bit of an advantage, mentally, seeing the game and making those adjustments — it matters. … There’s a lot of confidence for us what that looks like for us.”