Coming into this series, Luka Dončić’s heft, heft and skill were bound to overwhelm Andrew Wiggins. Instead, Wiggins’ defining moment in his gem of a playoff series came in Golden State’s 109-100 win over 23-year-old Dončić.
Wiggins and Dončić are inverses of each other. Luka might be the best player in Association history with a vertical leap that could be measured under a microscope. It’s one of the questions that has surrounded him since he arrived in 2018. It shouldn’t have been enough for Phoenix or Sacramento to avoid drafting itbut his ground game is the only thing that has kept him from achieving legendary status.
That hasn’t dampened his offensive productivity. He is the NBA playoff leading scorer. On the other hand, he plays All-Star Game caliber defense, which translates to teams chasing him through switches. Phoenix successfully attacked Luka in the first round until Chris Paul reached his expiration date. Steph Curry saw it and ate it alive as well. We nitpick, but the bar is high when it comes to becoming the best player on the planet. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and even Nikola Jokić, thanks in part to his length, unlocked defensive strength that lifted them to the next level of team basketball.
Wiggins entered the NBA as a phenom possessing cheat code athletics and a hollow bag. Even before he was a spark in Kansas’ eye, Wiggins was proclaimed a Maple Jordan. But eventually Embiid eclipsed him and defenders realized Wiggins was completely stuck if his drives straight to the rim could be denied. Still, he was the No. 1 pick in 2014 in part because he had the tools to be an All-NBA defenseman as well.
But back to the crime scene. In an instant, the fates of Wiggins and Dončić collided on the edge on Sunday night when Wiggins ran past a Reggie Bullock fence and took off just inside the free-throw line. To his credit, Luka tried to act as a deterrent but ended up collapsing once Wiggins got through him.
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Wiggins walked past him, rinsed him off with one hand, and staff at the American Airlines Center are still picking up pieces of Luka Monday morning. The hour of death for Dallas’ season came at 6:38 in the fourth quarter. Officials initially called an offensive foul, but dropped all charges after Steve Kerr contested the call.
Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to the Warriors going nuclear and vaporizing opponents at long range. Wiggins’ rim bang was close and personal. There was still a half-fourth quarter left, but the oxygen levels inside the arena plummeted after that and a 3-0 series lead is the death of basketball.
Wiggins didn’t murder the Mavs season alone, but he should be on a wanted poster alongside the rest of Golden State’s Death Lineup, who were on the floor for that punctuation dunk.
You could hit them all with a RICO charge for their selfless deaths and enthusiastic participation in setting up Luka’s disappearance. Draymond Green put the screen on top of the key which Curry used to get past Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson. Then Curry’s drive dragged Luka into the paint to provide a side defense. Instead of taking the tough layup, Curry kicked it out to Wiggins.
Curry scored 31 points and delivered 11 assists, including Luka’s killer. Wiggins had 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds.
Afterwards, Dončić reflected on Wiggins’ dunk, telling the media facetiously, “I mean, I got hit a bit, but it was impressive, I’m not going to lie. I rewatched the video, I was like, ooh. It was quite amazing. I wish I had these bunnies.
Wiggins’ athleticism is a valuable counterweight to the Splash Brothers’ perimeter gravity, Draymond Green’s smash mouth style of play and Kevon Looney’s vertical defense. A team hasn’t been so important to anyone’s career rejuvenation since Robert Downey Jr. joined the Avengers.
Four-fifths of the Death Lineup were also on the field for their 10-0 run in the first half. Dallas led by nine when Klay Thompson checked in at 4:08. Along with Looney, Poole, Curry, Wiggins and Green, they went into a furious race, took the lead at 1:51 and never gave it up.
Luka is knocking down the walls for slow twitch European guards. But if he wants to break into the West, he needs better athletes around him. This Mavs team resembles the 2007 Cavaliers. They’re headlined by a few overachievers like Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, but those two would be benched in Miami, Golden State or Boston.
Dallas has attempted the second-fewest restricted-area field goal attempts in the regular season and playoffs while shooting 3-pointers more frequently than any other team. But in Game 3, Max Kleber, Davis Bertans and Reggie Bullock combined to miss all 14 attempts. Jordan Poole struggled until he drove the nail into Dallas’ coffin with a corner 3 in the final minute of regulation time. The Mavericks have the seeds of a championship-caliber unit, but the Warriors are still a few light years ahead.