Five observations: Andrew Wiggins, Warriors defense blocks Mavs in Game 1

SAN FRANCISCO — Here are five observations from the Warriors’ dominating 112-87 Game 1 victory over the Mavericks, which put Golden State within three wins of the NBA Finals.

1. Andre Wiggins‘ individual defense

Andrew Wiggins edged Maxi Kleber, one of Dallas’ two undersized centers, for a comeback midway through the third quarter that put the Warriors up 18. That already gave Wiggins 19 points on his debut in the conference final.

He scored well. His team was playing very well. It felt like, in the context of a playoff game, a moment of brief relaxation. Jog down the field, get ready for another defensive possession as the Mavericks come back, maybe take a look at the scoreboard to check out that sparkling stat line.

For a split second, Wiggins began this satisfied walk. But then he remembered his most important job for Game 1: picking up Luka Dončić all over the pitch, cluttering his space and making life uncomfortable. There would be no time for quiet.

Here’s a slow-motion replay of that Wiggins footage. It points to two points. His basketball IQ tells him to get back on defense. But then his brain reminds him – find and hunt down Dončić.

Among Gary Payton II’s most important obligations all season was the 94 feet of ball pressure he could put on an opposing point guard when Warriors personnel felt the lead of an offense needed to be shaken off. rhythm.

“Reggie (Bullock) did it to me a couple of times tonight,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s just one more thing to think about (for a ball handler). I wouldn’t say it bothers you, but it’s something you can’t try to overcome.

Payton is out, robbing the Warriors of his unique talent. In the aftermath, Wiggins took on that duty on the ball, telling Mike Brown before the close of Memphis Game 6 that he wanted Tyus Jones back all over the court, and he accepted responsibility for doing the same with Dončić in game 1.

“Trying to get him to expend some energy was really helpful,” said Steve Kerr.

“Gary is a hell of a defender,” Wiggins said. “He’s the kind of game-changing defender. So when he’s out, you know, everyone has to step in.

Wiggins isn’t trying to rip Dončić’s dribble or even create a turnover. He just wants to force Dončić to spin a few times, bleed the shot clock precious seconds, to help tire him out slowly over the course of a game. The Mavericks are playing at the slowest pace in the NBA. Dončić operates patiently and comfortably. It’s a tactic to annoy him a little.

Here is the end of this possession. It’s nothing spectacular, certainly not among Wiggins’ top 10 defensive possessions in Game 1. But his ball pressure and deft navigation of a few screens from Dorian Finney-Smith forced Dončić to redirect his dribble a few times. He eventually gets Wiggins to shut him down but passes possession to a failed Reggie Bullock midranger.

Dončić shot 6 of 18 in the opener. He made seven turnovers. The Mavericks were outscored by 30 points in 35 minutes. His 20 points were the fewest he had scored in those playoffs. It was his weakest performance.

“Great job,” Dončić said. “That’s it. That’s all I have to say. They did a great job.”

It was a five man effort at all times. But national noise in the days leading up to this series asked if the Warriors had anyone with even a prayer to stay with Dončić in solitary confinement. The regular season tape alluded to Wiggins. He guarded Dončić reasonably well in all four matchups and quite quietly transformed into one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. He received All-Defense votes a season ago.

“That’s why he was the first choice,” Klay Thompson said. “You can’t teach this athleticism. You cannot teach this length. You cannot teach its timing. I’m just glad the world is starting to see who he really is. He’s an incredible winger. It will be like this for the next 10 years.

Wiggins spent most of the night on Dončić, but his work in the deciding third quarter was the most notable. Dončić had two points and four turnovers in the third. The Warriors won that quarter by 10.

This is Dončić’s second of four turnovers in the third quarter. Draymond Green takes the ball away from him which results in a quick break. But Green is able to strip him only because Wiggins chases Dončić 40 feet from the hoop, slides well with him and forces a desperate stop-start in trouble.

This is the fourth of Dončić’s four turnovers in the third quarter. The Warriors’ lead has increased to 18 points. Wiggins, on an incoming pass, again takes Dončić all over the field. Dončić is strong and cunning, but he is not extremely fast. Wiggins is faster. It is therefore comfortable to support without fear of being beaten by the dribble.

Wiggins follows him the full length of the pitch, evades another screen, guides Dončić through traffic, then launches himself into the air to flip one of Dončić’s passes in mid-air.

The Mavericks, of course, try to get Wiggins out of Doncic when the opportunity arises. They targeted Curry, Jordan Poole and Kevon Looney at various times in Game 1. There were multiple possessions when Wiggins was forced to pass Dončić to someone else. But he tried to fight over the top, didn’t change smoothly and often came back into action to keep Dončić as a mission or make an impact as an assist defender.

Here is an example of this dominant third trimester. Wiggins gets caught by a Spencer Dinwiddie screen at the top and Dončić curves just past Curry for an open track to the edge with only Poole in his immediate path. But Wiggins steps back into the fray from the top of the key and stages a contest on the edge to help force a miss.

“He was moving the puppies tonight,” Thompson said of Wiggins’ activity.

The Warriors were actively avoiding an overly confident postgame tone. Kerr said they “are under no illusions” that they understood Dončić. Thompson mentioned the few extra days off the Warriors had on the Mavericks and reminded reporters of the 2-0 series deficit Dallas had just overcome to beat the Suns.

“Luka is tough,” Curry said. “He always finds a way to control possessions. You have to assume he’ll shoot a bit better. But Wiggs was relentless. Every possession he was out there on him. That’s all we really want. Even though Luka has his numbers, you just want to feel like he had to work for everything. We need to be able to help him at the back of our rotations, and they want to try to get me and JP into the pick-and-rolls. But at the point of attack, Wiggs was brilliant and he showed what he was capable of at this end of the field.

2. Team-Wide Defense

Maxi Kleber picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter. Jason Kidd didn’t want to go back to Dwight Powell. So the Mavericks went ultra-small, surrounding Dončić with Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, Bullock and Jalen Brunson.

It’s the type of opposing unit that just begs the Warriors to counter with the small ball offense of Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Green. But Kerr didn’t go small. He stayed with Kevon Looney, who started the game and played another 28 minutes past his career-high 35 to close out Memphis.

It’s clear that after testing various starting lineups, the Warriors are once again leaning towards the dependable Looney because, within this current core, he’s become an essential part of their best defensive units, and Kerr tends to shy away from it. press defense when chips are down.

It worked in Game 1 against the Mavericks. Looney survived against the Powell, Kleber and small-ball lineups. Dončić targeted him a few times, but he held his own. The Warriors outshot Dallas 51-35 and had a 90.6 defensive rating for the game.

Wiggins was the point man against Dončić. Thompson held steady on a few post-ups. Looney provided the backbone of the game. Curry led the team with 12 rebounds. Green opened on Brunson and flew over as a free safety at various times, including that spectacular block to close out the first quarter.

Watch him try to alert Curry that a pin screen is coming around the corner, then – doubting Curry can contest it well enough – hover over it and smash it out of bounds.

3. The importance of Poole

Without roaming Jaren Jackson Jr. or waiting for Steven Adams, Poole suddenly had a ton more room to throw himself into the paint and finish in various acrobatic ways. He finished with 19 points in 26 minutes off the bench, making eight of his 12 shots, including six straight to the rim.

It’s crucial to the Warriors’ offense that Poole delivers that type of secondary scoring and play — three assists — in this series. But, in closer games, his defense will be under the microscope. Dallas attacked him a lot in Game 1 with Dončić, Brunson and Dinwiddie. He was marked several times and called for five fouls.

“They were definitely attacking him,” Kerr said. “He got five fouls. I thought he had a few tough calls, but he can do better by showing his hands. Sometimes you reach out like that and a player, you know, runs at you, you’re the one getting the call because it looks like you’re reaching. If you can show your hands, you’re more likely not to be penalized for a foul, and I think that’s something he can probably do better in the next game.

4. Statistics to note

The Mavericks went from 3 of 19 to 3 in the first quarter and 11 of 48 overall, a putrid 22%. There were rushed looks, challenged looks and even that blocked shot in the corner. But there were also several wide-opening misfires from competent shooters. If you were creating the formula for a Dallas response in Game 2, it starts with hitting those open shots.

5. Note quote

Wiggins delivered a post-game quote that might delight analytically inclined Warriors fans: “I’m trying to get away from mid-range right now.”

You are?

“I was just kidding,” Wiggins said. “I’m still going to shoot it.”

(Photo of Kevon Looney blocking Luka Dončić’s shot: Harry How/Getty Images)

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