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Andrew Wiggins’ progress looms large as Warriors try to recover from Game 1 loss to Kings


It’s impossible to know if that shot would have gone in for Andrew Wiggins one year ago, but it definitely wouldn’t have left so much compulsion to second guess.

With 9.3 seconds left in a Game 1 thriller against the Sacramento Kings, Wiggins got the ball in his hands and a chance to put the Golden State Warriors up 2 points. The Sacramento defense had collapsed toward a drive from Donte DiVincenzo, leaving no one close to Wiggins in the corner. It was the kind of shot the Golden State offense is designed to create for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or, often in the last few years, Wiggins.

Clank.

Wiggins’ miss ended up in the hands of Kings All-Star Domantas Sabonis and, two Malik Monk free throws and a missed Curry buzzer-beater later, the Warriors lost 126-123. They are now down 0-1 for only the fourth time in 25 playoff series since their first championship run.

No player was a bigger X factor than Wiggins in this Warriors-Kings series, which pits the NBA’s most decorated franchise of the last decade against its most spirited upstart. Saturday was Wiggins’ first appearance in a game since Feb. 13, as he took an extended leave of absence over an undisclosed family matter.

The validity of Wiggins’ absence shouldn’t be up for debate here — athletes have personal lives like the rest of us and one member of the Warriors called the issue “some real [expletive]” — but the apparent fallout was on display Saturday.

Andrew Wiggins has some catching up to do. (AP Photo/José Luis Villegas)

Under normal circumstances, Wiggins would have been the clear choice to guard Kings star De’Aaron Fox or Monk thanks to an athleticism and length that Curry, Thompson and Jordan Poole just don’t have. But Wiggins didn’t enter this series under normal circumstances, he entered it playing for the first time in more than two months.

The first half went well enough, for both Wiggins and the Warriors. By the end of the first half, the Warriors were up 61-55 and Wiggins, coming off the bench, had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting with 3 rebounds and 3 blocks, like this one on Fox.

The second half, well, let’s just go through the basic numbers.

Wiggins: Five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Fox: 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Monk: 17 points on 3-of-16 shooting (10-of-10 on free throws). The Kentucky/Kings duo feasted on the Warriors, not just Wiggins, but even Warriors head coach Steve Kerr conceded Wiggins declined toward the end of the game:

“Wiggs was great. So, so awesome to have him back. We’re whole with him out there. Our team makes sense with Wiggs was back. I thought he looked really good. First half, he was amazing. Second half, he maybe wore down a bit, which is to be expected given that he hasn’t played in a game in over two months.”

It doesn’t matter if Wiggins’ fatigue was expected, it now represents a problem for the Warriors. The team has overcome larger issues than the Kings in the past, but their core is older and Wiggins’ energy was supposed to be one of the ways to hide that fact.

The good news is Wiggins’ bounce still there, and he has only been seeing time on the court in practice for the last 11 days. He should still be getting his legs back, so it isn’t unreasonable to think there could be a significant improvement in time for Game 2 on Monday (10 p.m. ET, TNT).

If not, though, there might be a few more beams in the Warriors’ immediate future.



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