Canada Question
Canadian Andrew Wiggins will play a key role in the NBA Finals

Canadian Andrew Wiggins will play a key role in the NBA Finals

Canadian Andrew Wiggins will play a key role in the NBA Finals

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The Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics matchup is an excellent one. It pits this era’s premier team (Golden State is playing in its sixth finals in eight years and going for its fourth title in that span) against one of the NBA’s most iconic franchises (Boston is tied with the Lakers for the NBA record of 17 championships ). It should be a close one too: the betting odds imply that the Warriors, who own home-court advantage for a potential Game 7, have about a 57 per cent chance of winning the series. Plus, a Canadian player will have a significant say in who ends up hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

To get you caught up, here are some things to know ahead of Game 1 tonight at 9 pm ET in San Francisco:

The vintage warriors are back.

Led by the sublime Steph Curry, Golden State took the sport by storm in 2014-15, rolling to the franchise’s first championship in 40 years with a joyful playing style that revolutionized the sport. Seven years later, pretty much every team in the NBA is an homage to those warriors, launching three-pointers with abandon while prizing smaller, more versatile players on both ends of the floor. Curry and the Dubs truly changed basketball.

But then the warriors changed too. After blowing a 3-1 lead and losing to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals, Golden State added superstar Kevin Durant to what was already the NBA’s best team. Suddenly, the warriors weren’t so lovable anymore. They rattled off back-to-back championships in 2017 and ’18, but the spark was gone. Golden State was simply too stacked to root for.

By the time their fifth straight Finals appearance ended with a defeat to the Toronto Raptors in 2019, it was time to break up the band. An unhappy Durant, who tore an Achilles early in that series, fled for Brooklyn while sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who tore an ACL, would end up missing the next two full seasons after suffering another devastating injury. Curry played only five games in 2019-20, and the Warriors missed the playoffs that year and the next.

Golden State roared back to life this season, going 53-29 (the third-best record in the West) as Thompson returned, brilliant big man Draymond Green continued anchoring one of the league’s best defences, 2019 draft pick Jordan Poole blossomed at shooting guard and Curry, well, kept being Curry.

You’d never know it by looking at him, but the boyish superstar is now 34 years old. And yet, the greatest package of long-range shooting and ball-handling the NBA has ever seen remains one of the very best players in the league. He averaged a team-high 25.5 points this season and continues to warp the game in his team’s favor every time he touches the floor with his astonishing shooting range and tireless movement. The two-time MVP and three-time champ’s legacy is already secure. Curry reimagined basketball. Long after he’s gone, his imprint will remain on the sport. But this could be his last great chance to fill the only real hole in his resume: the lack of a Finals MVP award.

The Celtics might be the better team.

That’s a strange thing to say about an underdog, but Boston has been the best team in the NBA for four solid months now. Since falling to 25-25 on Jan 28, the Celtics have won 38 of 50 games. They closed the regular season on a 26-6 tear, then swept Durant and the star-studded Nets in the first playoff round before dethroning the defending-champion Bucks and taking down the top-seeded Heat (both in seven games) to reach the Final. Boston posted the NBA’s best defensive rating in the regular season (slightly ahead of second-place Golden State) and the ninth-best offensive rating (seven spots ahead of the Warriors).

The man for the Celtics is Jayson Tatum, a 24-year-old wing with tremendous size and skill. He tops all players in this series with 27 points per game in the playoffs — about a point ahead of Curry. Boston has an excellent sidekick for Tatum in 25-year-old Jaylen Brown, who’s averaging 23 points. Pesky point guard Marcus Smart, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, is chipping in 15.5.

Canada’s Andrew Wiggins will play an important role in this series.

In today’s offense-friendly NBA, opposing superstars can’t really be “stopped,” and no one guards them one-on-one. Defense is a team effort. But teams will still give someone the prime responsibility of making the best guy on the other side work for his points so he can’t completely destroy them. In the Warriors’ Western Conference final series vs. Dallas, the job of bothering Luka Doncic fell largely on Wiggins. The playoff scoring leader still averaged 32 points in the series, but Wiggins and the Warriors held him to under 39 per cent shooting in three games and Golden State breezed to victory in five.

Wiggins has had an interesting career. Drafted no. 1 overall by Cleveland in 2014, he was quickly shipped to Minnesota in a trade for Kevin Love that seemed like part of the deal for attracting LeBron James back to the Cavs. Though immensely talented, Wiggins was incapable of being a true go-to guy for the Timberwolves, who finished well below .500 in four of his five full seasons with them. He won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award in 2014-15, but Wiggins lacked the efficiency and consistent effort to bloom into a real star. His shortcomings as an alpha were also apparent with the Canadian national team last summer, when a Wiggins-led squad got bounced by the Czech Republic in the semifinals of a last-chance Olympic qualifier in Victoria despite the tournament being all but set up for Canada to win

But the Warriors have found the right role for Wiggins since acquiring him during their disastrous 2019-20 season. His job is to defend, rebound and chip in some scoring as a secondary option. Wiggins thrived this season, averaging a solid 17.6 points while having his most efficient offensive campaign as a pro and earning his first all-star selection. In the playoffs he’s scoring 15.8 a game along with seven rebounds and getting rave reviews for his defensive work — particularly against Doncic. Now Wiggins will be the tip of the spear for the Warriors’ efforts to contain Tatum.

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