Iguodala is stepping up to help save the Warriors
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.”