SAN FRANCISCO — On a night that every Golden State Warriors player to play meaningful minutes scored in double figures, it was their defense that propelled them to a 112-87 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday.
Heading into this series, the Warriors were preaching a team-defense mentality. No one was going to be able to take on the task of the Mavericks, and particularly Luka Doncic, alone.
Still, someone had to take the brunt of that load. And it was Andrew Wiggins who was tasked with being the primary defender on Doncic.
The ultimate goal was never to stop Doncic — that’s nearly impossible — but to slow him, making sure everything he got was earned and not given. Wiggins came as close as one could.
All five of Doncic’s contested shots — he had one breakaway dunk for his sixth field goal — came against Wiggins, but Wiggins held Dallas’ star to 5-of-11 shooting. Wiggins also forced Doncic into three turnovers.
“He was moving them puppies tonight,” Klay Thompson said.
“That’s why he was the No. 1 pick. You can’t teach that athleticism. You can’t teach that length. You can’t teach his timing. I’m just happy the world is getting to see who he really is, and that’s an incredible wing player, and he will be like this for the next 10 years.”
Doncic finished with 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting, including 2-of-10 on contested shots. It was the third-lowest career scoring playoff game for Doncic and was just the third time out of 24 postseason games he failed to score more than 20 points.
“They were doing a great job on me, especially in the second half,” Doncic said. “But I think I’ve got to be better. That’s on me. As a leader, I’ve got to be better for the whole group, so that’s on me.”
Dallas coach Jason Kidd said: “They did a really good job, Wiggins picking him up full court. They were box-and-one, went zone. But they did a good job. Give them credit. Wiggins did a really good job. We understood coming into the series that we were going to see that. We’ll go back and look at the video and see what we can do better.”
It was just the Warriors’ previous game — Game 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies — that Wiggins was asking associate head coach Mike Brown whether he could pick up Tyus Jones full court. And on Wednesday, as Kidd said, Wiggins did it again with Doncic.
Wiggins would pick him up full court at times, sticking to his side, shadowing his movement all 94 feet up the court. Just that — even if the defender isn’t jabbing for the ball or actively trying to poke it away — can be enough to frustrate a player.
“It’s a tactic obviously in terms of just making guys work,” said Stephen Curry, who scored a game-high 21 points to lead seven Warriors in double digits. “It’s just one more thing to think about. I wouldn’t say it bothers you but something you can’t try to overcome. Wiggs is going to keep doing it, but it’s just one more thing to think about and that’s good playoff basketball.”
Does a full-court press — in addition to scoring 19 points with five rebounds and three assists — ever tire Wiggins out?
“I feel like I’m still young. I don’t really get too tired,” Wiggins said. “I’m locked in. I’m motivated, and when you see it work or I feel like it’s helping us play better, it just motivates me to do it more. I’m not tired or nothing. You know, it’s adrenaline. I just feel good.”
According to Thompson’s assessment, being with Golden State has allowed Wiggins to be the fullest version of himself as a player. That’s not a new idea — all season, Wiggins’ role has been the centerpiece of any conversation regarding his success. Unlike his days in Minnesota, he doesn’t have to shoulder the load of scoring or facilitating.
His load comes on the other end, and it’s a load he doesn’t mind carrying.
But the Warriors knew heading into this matchup, no one individual player could take on this assignment alone.
Doncic was double-teamed seven times, with the Mavericks going 1-of-5 for four points with a turnover on those plays.
“It was an excellent defensive night overall,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You know, we had the second-ranked defense in the league this year. We take pride in our defense. Everybody sort of leans on Draymond [Green]. Draymond sets the tone for us. We had a good defensive night. But we can’t let our guard down.”
The Mavericks couldn’t get anything going as a team from beyond the arc, despite being a strong 3-point shooting team. Dallas shot 3-of-23 on contested 3-pointers and just 8-of-25 on open ones.
“They spread you out dramatically. They took 48 3s, and it’s hard to cover all that ground,” Kerr said. “So it requires a ton of effort, and for the most part, that effort was there. We really contested shots well and tried to challenge everything we could. So it was a matter of just playing with a lot of force and really bringing the effort.”
The Warriors are leaving Game 1 happy with their performance, but they know this is just a starting point. Several players noted this was just one game — and the first game of a best-of-seven series.
They know they can’t just maintain their performance level, but will have to up it as Dallas makes adjustments.
“We expect them to come back with a much better effort on Friday,” Thompson said. “It’s just one game. We can feel good now but this team was down 2-0 and won the series last round.”
As for the Mavericks, there is nothing Doncic hasn’t seen, they say. So, they know there is nowhere to go but up.
“He’s just brilliant,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “I think he’s seen every defense. … If you’ve seen it before, you’ve probably developed counters for it. So now it’s just about continuing to improve game by game, and he’s one of the best in the business at doing it.”