Some playoff losses you learn from and scrutinize. Others you flush down the toilet and move on. There weren't a lot of positives for the Golden State Warriors to take from their 127-97 Game 3 drubbing as the host Los Angeles Lakers took a 2-1 series lead on Saturday.
The Warriors couldn't make a shot. They turned the ball over way too much. They sent the Lakers to the line for 37 -- yes, 37! -- free throw attempts.
If there was one Golden State bright spot, however, it was the play of Andrew Wiggins, who has been slowly working his way back from a 10-week absence that delayed his return to the lineup until the first game of the playoffs. Wiggins came into Game 3 averaging 17 points, but his shooting (28 percent from 3-point range) and rebounding (5.7 per game) were well below the numbers he displayed in last year's breakout postseason en route to the NBA title.
"He's been a little up and down with the shooting, but you know he's capable of having a game where he makes five or six 3s, and we know that's coming," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said prior to Game 3. "I'm just thrilled to have him back because of everything that he brings to the table."
On Saturday, Wiggins looked much more aggressive, scoring 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists in just under 28 minutes, while going 6 for 11 from the field and 2 for 4 from deep. The rebound and assist totals were both his best from this postseason, and he was one of the few Warriors who displayed the requisite energy throughout the game.
Wiggins' assertiveness and activity are crucial, because he's by far the most athletic Warrior who gets regular minutes. They need him to get out and finish in transition, and punish defenses who overplay their shooters with backdoor cuts. Not to mention occasionally getting into iso bucket-getting mode when the shot clock winds down.
There was no better example of Wiggins' unique affect on Golden State than in the third quarter, when his soaring, acrobatic dunk over shot-blocker extraordinaire Anthony Davis immediately changed the game's momentum.
After the dunk, the Warriors got two stops and two buckets to cut the lead to 10. They couldn't continue the progress, but it was clear that they were sparked by Wiggins' athleticism just as much as a deep 3-pointer from Steph Curry or Klay Thompson.
In addition to his athletic finishes, mid-range jumpers and spot-up 3s, the Warriors rely on Wiggins to guard the other team's best perimeter player. He has been matched up with LeBron James for most of the series and, according to NBA.com matchup data prior to Saturday's matchup, had held the league's all-time leading scorer to 9-for-19 shooting, including 22 percent from beyond the arc, while forcing four turnovers to James' five assists.
"It's hard to get a screen hit on his body. He's great at avoiding screens at the point of screen," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of Wiggins before Game 3. "He moves his feet well, he's a good vertical defender, he can block shots. He's smart, doesn't go for a lot of pump fakes. He's just really, really special on that side of the ball."
You can generally tell when Wiggins is engaged by his rebounding numbers, so it's a good sign for the Warriors that he pulled down nine in Game 3, including three on the offensive end. He also didn't commit a turnover -- a vice that has continually plagued Golden State throughout the Kerr era.
The Warriors were able to advance against Sacramento without top-notch Wiggins, but that might not be the case against a bigger, stronger Lakers team. Saturday's 30-point loss was a disaster, but if it kickstarts Wiggins into what he was last postseason, the Warriors will be much better for it.
"He doesn't have to make a ton of shots for us to win," Kerr said of Wiggins. "But he has to defend and rebound and play with force because he represents a lot of our length and athleticism, and we have to be able to match what the Lakers are putting on the court. So, Wiggs does it."