Andrew Wiggins' Game 1 performance is exactly what Warriors need

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Wiggins' Game 1 performance is exactly what Warriors need originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- There were a handful of Warriors storylines that deservedly earned the spotlight after the Warriors' 123-107 Game 1 win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night to start their first-round NBA playoff series.

Steph Curry surprisingly came off the bench in his return from a sprained left foot after missing the past month. Jordan Poole scored 30 point in his place and continued his breakout season in his playoff debut, and Klay Thompson dropped 19 in his return to the postseason. Draymond Green did it all while frustrating NBA MVP Nikola Jokic all night long and Steve Kerr unleashed a lethal lineup that turned the tables in favor of the Warriors.

Even Nemanja Bjelica rightfully earned plenty of praise for his eight points and strong defensive play off the bench.

Quietly, Andrew Wiggins played the exact kind of game the Warriors need from him throughout this series and as their playoff run extends. It might have been lost in the shuffle of the above storylines, but his coaches and teammates certainly took notice.

"Andrew Wiggins was fantastic tonight," Kerr said after the win. "His defense, his rebounding -- he had nine boards. He attacked the rim. ... I thought Wiggs was tremendous. He's a really nice complement to those other guys, because there's a lot of open floor for Wiggs to attack when Jordan, Steph and Klay are out there with him."

Wiggins scored 16 points and went 6-for-11 from the field. More importantly, he grabbed nine rebounds to go with two assists and one steal. He was a plus-16 in 29 minutes.

His nine rebounds are a new career-high in the playoffs, after playing five postseason games with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2018. This was just the second time all season that he has reached that mark.

"Andrew Wiggins showed his two-way ability," Thompson said Saturday night. "Near double-double with some great defense, and his play at the rim is so needed for our team because we don't have a lot of explosive guys like him."

The return of Curry, Poole's rise and Thompson finding his rhythm opens everything up for Wiggins on both sides of the floor. His 16 points were tied for the third-most by a Warrior in their Game 1. They were tied with Curry, who came off the bench and used the first quarter to feel the game out and keep the ball moving. Wiggins now is the Warriors' fourth scoring option on offense.

That's just fine, too.

Wiggins is well aware of how important his playoff performances can be for both his reputation and his future paychecks. He became a first-time All-Star this season after a strong first half and then tumbled down the mountaintop after the honor. His inconsistencies have been front and center, but the opposite was true in his Warriors playoff debut.

With Curry, Poole and Thompson joining Wiggins on the floor, he can take advantage of that trio's offensive firepower by cutting to the basket for two easy points and spotting up for wide-open 3-pointers. Keep it simple. Less is more in this case.

Defensively, Kerr called out Wiggins' nine rebounds and Thompson highlighted his explosiveness. Right from the start, Wiggins was flying in for rebounds and provided the Warriors with energy from sideline to sideline. His athleticism never has been questioned, but he too often had games where he went missing on the glass and didn't take advantage of his gifts.

The Warriors will be smaller than their opponents much of the time, that we know. Green's generational defense can make up for plenty of that, and Wiggins' top-tier athleticism can as well. His 110 defensive rating in Game 1 was tied with Draymond, and was second to just Bjelica's 106 among Warriors who played significant minutes.

RELATED: Warriors turn focus to greater task at hand vs. Nuggets

Wiggins doesn't need to be a first, second or third option for the Warriors to succeed. As Kerr pointed out, he has to attack and be the kind of complement to his teammates that they need, which is exactly what he did in Saturday night's emphatic win. That's how he can again earn his Two-Way Wiggs nickname, and his bank account will be better off for it.

This is the Wiggins the Warriors need now and in their quest for 15 more wins for the former No. 1 pick to call himself a champion for the first time.

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