Iguo­dala is step­ping up to help save the War­riors

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MICHAEL LEE Cava­liers at War­riors Game 5, 8 p.m., ABC, Se­ries is 2-2

oak­land, calif. — Golden State War­riors swing­man An­dre Iguo­dala got clob­bered on a drive by LeBron James, reached down for his right fore­arm and con­torted his face in a man­ner that sug­gested he was se­ri­ously hurt. In an in­stant, Iguo­dala shot straight up as if he had been mirac­u­lously healed. The gri­mace be­came a grin and he started high-fiv­ing team­mates un­til he got to the foul line — where he reached for his arm and feigned in­jury once again for laughs.

If he was mock­ing James — who has a rep­u­ta­tion for em­bel­lish­ing con­tact to sell fouls — or any other mem­ber of the Cleve­land Cava­liers, Iguo­dala would never ad­mit it. When asked af­ter the game why he acted as if he had been shot, Iguo­dala danced around the ques­tion with a con­vo­luted an­swer about pregame rou­tines and naps be­fore con­clud­ing, “It was the per­fect op-

por­tu­nity to re­lax and en­joy the mo­ment.”

Iguo­dala’s tim­ing seemed a lit­tle odd since the War­riors had just had a 15-point lead whit­tled to four late in the third quar­ter of a crit­i­cal Game 4 his team sorely needed if it were to have any se­ri­ous chance of win­ning the NBA Fi­nals. But he brought some lev­ity to what could’ve been a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion as the War­riors re­gained their fo­cus and fin­ished strong in a 103-82 rout that evened the se­ries at two games with a piv­otal Game 5 on Sun­day at Or­a­cle Arena.

“He’s been a calm­ing fac­tor on this team all year,” said Luke Wal­ton, a War­riors as­sis­tant and Iguo­dala’s for­mer col­lege team­mate at Ari­zona.

The num­bers haven’t al­ways been fair to Iguo­dala, who had the least pro­duc­tive sea­son of his ca­reer while as­sum­ing a re­serve role that he never had to ac­cept in his first 10 NBA sea­sons. But the Fi­nals have given the for­mer al­ls­tar and Olympian a chance to re-emerge and dis­play the many ways in which he can help a team — the sac­ri­fice, de­fense, in­tel­lect and even sly sense of hu­mor that have con­trib­uted to the War­riors’ suc­cess.

Iguo­dala has con­sis­tently ha­rassed James into some hor­rific shoot­ing per­for­mances. And when War­riors Coach Steve Kerr gave Iguo­dala his first start Thurs­day, the vet­eran re­sponded with 22 points and eight re­bounds while also help­ing to limit James to a se­ries-low 20 points on 7-for-22 shoot­ing.

“He’s been our best player through four games,” Kerr said of Iguo­dala. “I just think An­dre is one of those guys who rises to the oc­ca­sion and em­braces the chal­lenge.”

Guard­ing James is a phys­i­cal chal­lenge for Iguo­dala, as it is for any­one. The 6-foot-6 Iguo­dala sur­ren­ders two inches and about 40 pounds to the four-time MVP. Iguo­dala is still a de­cent ath­lete at age 31 but he re­lies on a file of in­for­ma­tion, com­piled through years of one-on-one bat­tles, film study and a sum­mer spent train­ing with James on Team USA, to an­tic­i­pate his moves and read his ten­den­cies. Af­ter forc­ing James into an off-bal­ance jumper at the end of reg­u­la­tion in Game 1, Iguo­dala talked about play­ing the per­cent­ages when a player like James de­cides to be­come a vol­ume shooter.

“You’ve got to be men­tally pre­pared more than any­thing, un­der­stand­ing it’s go­ing to be a long game,” Iguo­dala said. “Not to over­re­act to cer­tain things. That is key.

“If I was guard­ing an­other guy and he made a cou­ple bas­kets, you might over­re­act like you might need to switch some­thing up.

“Men­tally you have to be with it the whole night. So that can be re­ally stress­ful if you don’t go about it the right way.”

Iguo­dala has lost some of the ath­leti­cism that made a nightly high­light pro­ducer, but he knows when to sum­mon enough for a big dunk or two. And wisely, Iguo­dala dis­cov­ered even in col­lege that the men­tal side of the game would al­low him to re­main pro­duc­tive even af­ter he lost the abil­ity to rou­tinely hur­dle de­fend­ers.

Kerr has been blown away by Iguo­dala’s knowl­edge of the game. “The guy is bril­liant at both ends,” the coach said. “He sees the game. If he wants to coach some day, he’d be a great coach. He’s got a great bas­ket­ball mind.”

But Iguo­dala has a nat­u­ral cu­rios­ity that extends be­yond the court. He in­terned at Bank of Amer­ica and Mer­rill Lynch dur­ing the NBA lock­out in 2011. And he de­cided to join the War­riors as a free agent in 2013 in part be­cause he was im­pressed by the tal­ent on the ros­ter but also saw an op­por­tu­nity to learn from owner Joe La­cob, who built his wealth as a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, and other busi­ness­men in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

But more than his tal­ent and in­tel­li­gence, Iguo­dala’s char­ac­ter has played a huge role in es­tab­lish­ing the cul­ture that Kerr wanted in his first sea­son. Kerr was able to con­vince Iguo­dala to come off the bench, a move that was made to save his knees and help Har­ri­son Barnes be­come a more re­li­able con­trib­u­tor.

“It both­ered him not start­ing, but what makes him so great and unique is he didn’t let the fact that it both­ered him af­fect the whole of a team. He still came out, he played his role per­fectly,” Wal­ton said. “It’s easy to have char­ac­ter and be a great guy when ev­ery­thing is go­ing your way, but when it’s not and you can still be that type of per­son, it shows you who An­dre re­ally is.”

Iguo­dala hasn’t hid­den that the ad­just­ment re­mains dif­fi­cult af­ter start­ing his first 806 ca­reer games, in­clud­ing the post­sea­son. But af­ter be­ing the mis­cast lead­ing man for some medi­ocre teams in Philadel­phia— where he never blos­somed into the star 76ers fans wanted him to be­come — and wal­low­ing for a for­get­table sea­son in Den­ver, Iguo­dala ac­cepted that be­com­ing a cham­pion might re­quire him to take a step back. Oddly enough, now that the War­riors are in the Fi­nals, just the op­po­site has been the case. Golden State needs more from Iguo­dala, and he’s ready to com­ply.

“They say num­bers don’t lie, but some­times num­bers can lie,” Iguo­dala said. “Be­cause some guys put up big num­bers, but it may not re­sult in a win­ning cul­ture or a win­ning player. So for me, it’s just at this point in my ca­reer, it’s just win­ning and hav­ing an im­pact on the floor. When you win, ev­ery­thing takes care of it­self.”

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