OAKLAND — All season, the Warriors’ depth and versatility off the bench has been a huge part of their success. Things were no different in Game 1 of the Finals, when one reserve player in particular was the difference. Throughout his career, Andre Iguodala has been the “LeBron stopper” wherever he’s gone. If all the Warriors got out of him was strong defense, that would have been enough. But Iguodala contributed 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including two three-pointers.
LeBron James scored 44 points and singlehandedly kept the Cavs in the game in the second half, but it wasn’t an easy 44 points. Iguodala did the only thing you can do: make him work. James had 7 points on 13 shots during possessions when he was defended by Iguodala, according to Synergy Sports.
“Andre is one of the smartest defenders I’ve ever seen,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “I mean, he understands angles, he understands where everybody is on the floor. You know, it’s funny to say when a guy gets 44 points that the defender did a really good job, but I thought Andre did extremely well. Made LeBron take some tough shots.”
There was a noticeable difference anytime another defender was switched onto James. The Warriors started the game with Harrison Barnes on him, with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green taking some possessions as well. Thompson and Barnes simply weren’t up to the task. James overpowered both of them. But Iguodala gave him a hard time.
“Andre, he’s one of the best defenders in the league,” Thompson said. “And obviously LeBron had a great game. But he made it so tough on him that last quarter and a half. He’s got long arms. He’s very active. Some of the best hands I’ve ever seen, and he did it on both ends.”
This is Iguodala’s first time in the Finals, following an 11-year career filled with elite defensive performances like this one, but that also miscast him as a primary scoring option. In Golden State, under Kerr, he has found the perfect role: scoring if needed, but mostly making sure the LeBron Jameses of the world don’t get easy baskets.
“My years in Philly, I always had to guard the best players, and then I had to try to create on offense as well,” said Iguodala. “But it was always those nights when it was kind of I shouldn’t say second-tier, but those second-tier guys that gave me problems because I’m so used to having so much energy on the defensive end guarding the elite guys. underneath them and they seem to bite me a little bit.”
Iguodala wasn’t the only Warriors bench player who stepped up. Marreese Speights contributed 8 points while Festus Ezeli had 5. Overall, Golden State’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 34-9. Their attack was all James, and in the end, even his Finals career high wasn’t enough. But that depth and consistency is what got the Warriors where they are.
“That’s going to be pivotal in this series, is our bench play, and they played great tonight,” said Thompson. “We’re one of the deepest teams I’ve ever been on. That’s what we’re doing all year is just wearing on teams, and Andre was an example of that tonight. He played both ends like a champion, and really stepped up for us.”
“Andre has been fantastic all year,” Kerr said. “The numbers don’t always show it, but he’s a great player for us.”