CLEVELAND — All season long, Andre Iguodala has sacrificed. He’s seen his minutes cut and his starting job taken away. It was all in preparation for this exact moment. Warriors coach Steve Kerr wanted to increase Harrison Barnes’ confidence and give the second unit a first option. It was a lot to ask of Iguodala, who has been a starter most of his career.
“Part of it was, the bringing off the bench part was to help Harrison and put Harrison in a better role and also to solidify our second unit, which Andre did,” said Kerr. “We tried all season long to give Andre rest. We gave him four or five games off at key times, and we just wanted to keep him fresh as possible. I mean, he looks great out there. He’s been our best player through four games. He guards LeBron pretty much every possession that he’s out there, and his offense has been terrific.”
But being a sixth man is a lot more palatable when you’re also the frontrunner to win Finals MVP if your team wins the title. Iguodala has played stellar defense on LeBron James all series, and he slid comfortably into the starting lineup on Thursday, when Kerr decided to make an adjustment. It paid off in a big way with the Warriors’ convincing 103-82 win over the Cavs, taking back homecourt advantage.
After superhuman performances in the first three games of the Finals, James was held to 20 points on 22 shots on Thursday. It was a perfect storm for the Warriors, who have been content to let the four-time MVP go nuts while taking the Cavs’ role players out of the game. This time, they sent the occasional double-team at James, and none of the other Cavs players made them pay.
“I didn’t think Andre guarded him any differently than he did in the first three games,” Kerr said. “It’s a different game. LeBron’s shots didn’t go in. The same shots may go in next game. And you never know how it’s going to play out. But Andre, he battles him. He’s played him a lot in his career. Whatever team he’s been on, he’s been the guy who has to guard LeBron when LeBron comes to town.”
It’s not just Iguodala’s defense that has made this a series again. He benefitted greatly on the offensive end from being inserted into the starting lineup, speeding up the pace of the game and giving Golden State another perimeter threat.
It’s all because Iguodala was willing to make that sacrifice during the year. He became a situational threat for the Warriors, which has made him a “different look” Kerr can throw out there, rather than a mainstay that’s an obvious player to gameplan for. And now, he’s the X-factor for a title team.
“I think it’s just about playing the game the right way, and our team has been really good at just letting it flow, and whoever’s night it is, that’s the guy’s night. But the majority of the time it’s Steph, because he is who he is and he’s going to do that no matter where he’s at.
As we get older and mature and play this game, great players like that understand maybe it’s not my night, but someone else is going to have a huge game because of me.”