Andre Iguodala rarely starts, never whines and seldom displays his emotions. Getting him to elaborate on a topic, any topic, is more painful for the interviewer than the interviewee.
But on a night when the Golden State Warriors received a needed boost from their reserves, Iguodala had plenty to say, in a manner of speaking. Chased down and slapped from behind by Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, whose hand inadvertently touched a sensitive part of Iggy’s body, the response was a collective roar: “Can’t touch this.”
The defending champs got mad, then got nasty. Leading only 71-68 with just under a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Warriors erupted for 13 straight points, beginning with Iguodala’s three-pointer and ending with, well, it never really ended.
Shaun Livingston rediscovered his jumper. Leandro Barbosa tossed in floaters. Iguodala sank another field goal from the wing. Before the Cavs could blink, the Warriors were sprinting to a 104-89 victory Thursday in Game 1 of this best-of-seven NBA Finals.
All this occurred, by the way, on a night Steph Curry and Klay Thompson contributed a quiet 11 and nine points, respectively.
As for Iguodala? He often defended LeBron James, made plays like a point guard, read his opponents like a book, and both calmed and ignited his teammates on cue, and right on time.
“Andre is a brilliant basketball player,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward. “He doesn’t get enough credit. I think Bob Fitzgerald, our TV guy, calls Andre ‘the adult in the room’ for us. He always settles us down, and he knows exactly what’s happening out there.”
The mood these past few days among the Warriors – who barely caught their breath after the great escape against the deep, athletic and talented Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals – has been a combination of relief, elation, determination and, occasionally, at least mild irritation.
While much of the world has been obsessing about a Finals rematch that features the league’s two premier players, Curry and James, the current MVP has no interest in debating which of the two best represents the NBA.
“It’s really annoying for me to be – that’s not what I’m playing for, to be the face of the NBA or to be this or that, or to take LeBron’s throne or whatever,” Curry said before the opener. “I’m trying to chase rings, and that’s all I’m about. That’s where the conversation stops for me. It’s about winning, and the fact we won a championship last year and were the last team standing, obviously, is what is most important to me.”
In other words, forget that he looks like a cherub. This is one cold-blooded dude, and this is still a somewhat new experience. Curry is competing in his second championship series, while James is making his sixth consecutive Finals appearance. The Cavs’ 6-foot-8, 250-pound human motor vehicle (think Hummer with twice as many gears) – who led his team Thursday with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists – had no such issues discussing his professional duels in historical context.
Tim Duncan. Kevin Garnett. Ray Allen. Dwyane Wade. James listed all of the above.
“I don’t want to leave out Dirk, as well,” he added, referring to Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.
But back to the Warriors, the one-for-all, all-for-one chorus directed by Kerr. They don’t care who starts, who amasses the stats, who gets the most time at the postgame podium. In Thursday’s opener, for instance, Harrison Barnes was back in the starting lineup, with Iguodala returning to his sixth-man role.
The decision quickly paid off. Barnes, who will become a free agent on July 1, has been erratic and/or invisible for much of these playoffs, particularly when not included among the starters. Yet he jump-started the Warriors with three first-quarter baskets, and then, as is often the case, retreated into the background while Iguodala resumed his familiar role as an invaluable NBA Finals participant and Livingston provided a playoff-best performance and helped the Warriors bench dominate the Cavs reserves by an astounding 45-10 points.
“Their bench played well,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “We’ve got to figure out how to take those guys out of the game.”
On to Game 2.