SAN FRANCISCO — A little voice inside of Andrew Wiggins, the pure scorer that formerly governed his game, was telling him not to concede. No way. Wiggins made $150 million drilling midrange jumpers. Now he’s going to just cede the title of best midrange specialist to Otto Porter Jr.?
“Yeah, he’s knockdown,” Wiggins said. “He don’t miss that midrange shot. That’s him.”
“I’ll give him that. I’m trying to get away from the midrange right now. So I’ll give him that.”
Entering the Western Conference finals, combining the regular season and playoffs, Stephen Curry had the team’s best percentage from midrange (44.9 percent). Klay Thompson’s 80 made midrange jumpers were a team high, followed by Wiggins’ 75.
“That’s a good question,” Curry said before weighing in on the Warriors’ best middy practitioner. “Probably Otto.”
Do free throws count as midrange shots?
“It’s definitely not me right now,” said Curry, who missed three free throws in Game 1.
The midrange was the weapon of choice in the Warriors’ 112-87 Game 1 win over the Mavericks on Wednesday. The Warriors used it to open up the Mavericks. They attacked the paint, beginning with Kevon Looney converting putbacks and dunks on the road to 5-for-5 shooting from the field and ending with Jordan Poole blowing by defenders into his cashmere-smooth finishes.
The Warriors made a bet in Game 1 that they’d be better at converting 2s than the Mavericks would be converting 3s. Dallas takes more 3s and makes more than any team in the playoffs. The Warriors could try to match the Mavericks bomb-for-bomb — they might moving forward — but Wednesday, they banked on high-percentage offense over the allure of the 3-pointer.
It began, however, with the midrange shot. Coach Steve Kerr has been harping on taking the middy. When Kevin Durant was here, that was the Warriors’ in-case-of-emergency-break-glass shot. It’s still the shot that’s often open with teams swarming the 3-point line and collapsing the paint. On Wednesday, the Warriors took the Mavericks’ offering.
Wiggins made four. Porter, Thompson and Curry each made three. Poole knocked down a couple. Even Draymond Green and Looney made one. With Too $hort performing at halftime, it really felt like the ’90s at Chase Center.
“My ideal game is to shoot 70 percent from 3, actually,” Kerr said. “But I thought we took what the defense gave us. They did a good job taking away a lot of our 3s, and a lot of our guys made those midrangers that I think you have to make in the playoffs. I just feel like teams are going to take away layups, and they are going to take away 3s. If you can step in and knock down some 15-footers, I think you have to be able do that.”
The franchise that brought the greatest shooting backcourt of all time, that popularized pace and space, that changed the dynamics of the court with its deep shooting, will happily morph into a “Hoosiers” spinoff, if necessary. Winners prefer the style of play that wins. Champions don’t play favorites with shots, just take the ones that are open. The Warriors will morph into a spinoff of “The White Shadow” if it helps their chances of a title.
The Warriors built a 2-1 lead on Memphis in the West semis by dominating in the paint. The Grizzlies’ desire to take away the Warriors’ 3-point shooting created all kinds of driving lanes. And Memphis’ small lineup left the rim exposed. When Ja Morant went down with a bone bruise in his right knee, the Grizzlies switched up their strategy and put two bigs on the court: previously unused Steven Adams along with Jaren Jackson Jr. They became a wall inside, one the Warriors had a hard time scaling.
“The Memphis series shook us a bit from time to time,” Curry said, “where three quarters, three and a half quarters, it didn’t seem to be clicking.”
They survived. Now they are facing a Dallas squad with no semblance of the bigs Memphis had. The Warriors could see the rim again.
Despite being the worst shot-blocking team left in the playoffs, the Mavericks (with one block Wednesday) are collapsing on the paint to crowd drivers and make sure the Warriors feel the presence of defenders. The Warriors were cold from 3 in the first half. Curry was 1-for-6, and Thompson missed all three of his. They combined to shoot 4-for-14 in the first half. Thompson didn’t even score.
It was an easy choice to solve the Mavericks by taking the party inside. The Warriors looked much more comfortable, much more fluid, getting the shots they wanted behind the arc.
“(Dwight) Powell and Maxi Kleber are different than Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson,” Curry said. “But they still are a challenge in terms of you don’t want to get into a crowd, and you don’t want to get into positions where you don’t have any outlets. … Once you get into the paint, you have a couple more options. But you just have to be assertive and decisive on what you’re trying to do.”
A bit of irony in the Game 1 win: Charles Barkley was in attendance, playing his role as Golden State heel.
Back in 2015, he became a villain in these parts because he didn’t believe in the Warriors’ championship hopes. His stance then: Jump-shooting teams can’t win it all. Besides the Warriors being much more than a jump-shooting team, Barkley’s philosophical stance gave the Warriors a hypothesis to disprove. Barkley became the face of past eras, clinging to tenants of hoop etched into stone tablets as he yelled at the 3-point clouds forming over the NBA’s mountaintop.
Wednesday, at the TNT setup in the plaza outside Chase Center, Barkley was jeered like a malefactor. Not because he was wrong seven years ago, but because this time, he picked the Mavericks. Barkley said he prefers the Dallas version of small ball because it’s led by Luka Dončić. Barkley, the Hall of Famer turned legendary TNT personality, a master at needling fan bases, is riding with the team jacking up more 3s than any team in the postseason.
Oddly enough, the Warriors won Game 1 with the kind of basketball Barkley once held as superior. Game 1 of the West finals tilted on Golden State’s efficiency inside the arc, while the Mavericks, on this night, died by the 3, missing 37 of their 48 attempts.
Through the quarters, both teams had taken the same number of shots, 64. But the Warriors shot 74.4 percent from inside the arc, while Dallas shot 27 percent from 3. Stephen Curry hit two 3-pointers during a 10-2 run to start the second half, a spurt that pushed the Warriors’ lead to 17. The home team led by 19 entering the fourth. But they’d blown a 19-point fourth-quarter lead to Dallas before this season, so the Warriors opened the quarter looking to extract that possibility from the minds of the Mavericks. And their choice for a dagger was to carve up the Mavericks inside the arc.
The 10-0 run to open the final stanza went like this: Poole layup, Thompson 17-footer, Green fast-break layup, another Poole layup, a 16-footer from Thompson. Just like that, the lead was 98-68 with 8:26 left in the game. At that point, the Warriors were 34-for-46 inside the arc. The Warriors didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer during this run. They only took 11 in the second half, making five.
“I don’t think we were necessarily intentional,” Thompson said. “I think it just kind of happened because teams are just gonna run us off the 3-point line this time of year. Steve always harps on it. That midrange shot is going to be there. … It was really working for us tonight. We didn’t shoot a great percentage from 3, but we knocked enough down to win big.”
Now they wait to see how the Mavericks counter. Dallas doesn’t have a big man to throw out there and protect the rim. Being aggressive about stopping drives could open up the Warriors’ 3-point shooting, which Dallas is determined to take away. Or the Warriors could keep attacking the open spaces, get to the rim and put up their 2-point efficiency against the Mavericks’ bombs-away approach. Certainly, Dallas could shoot better from 3.
No matter what the Mavericks do by way of adjustment, the safe bet is the midrange will be open for the Warriors, waiting for the best middy man on the team — which is Porter, since Wiggins has bequeathed his affinity for long jumpers.
“I was just joking,” Wiggins said. “I’m still going to shoot it.”
(Photo of Steph Curry: Kyle Terada / USA Today)