Andre Iguodala's defense keys Warriors' return to NBA Finals
OAKLAND >> All season long, MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green drew the attention and accolades.
When it comes to the biggest moments of the playoffs, that's when the Golden State Warriors turn to Andre Iguodala.
Last year's NBA Finals MVP is a major reason why the defending champions are back in this spot with a chance to repeat.
"He's always kind of our unsung hero. He never has the numbers that jump out at you in the box score, so people don't write about him or show him much on the highlights," coach Steve Kerr said. "But he's a phenomenal defensive player and he's an incredibly intelligent player. He settles us down on offense and takes the toughest assignment on defense."
Not bad being compared to Scottie Pippen, either.
Iguodala's stingy, reliable defense while regularly drawing the opponent's best player has earned him that very compliment from Kerr, a former teammate of Pippen's on the Chicago Bulls.
Last June, the play of Iguodala against LeBron James helped swing the NBA Finals for the Warriors, and he was called upon again to handle the daunting load that is Kevin Durant in the deciding Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
He shined, as usual. The unflappable Iguodala appeared loose while joking around with teammates on the Oracle Arena court after Wednesday's practice ahead of Game 1 against the Cavaliers on Thursday. He played 43 minutes in just his second start of the season and first of these playoffs for the 73-win Warriors in a 96-88 win Monday night.
In the last two games when the Warriors depended on his defense against Durant, he played more than 81 minutes combined for his highest two outputs of any regulation game all season.
"He's going to need some good treatment tomorrow, for sure," Curry said only half-jokingly afterward. "He's such a Swiss Army knife kind of guy where he can do so much on the floor ... just his presence as a playmaker and a seasoned vet. You kind of never know what's on his mind by looking at his face. He always kind of has the same mannerisms and whatnot, and it keeps us just composed and at peace with whatever the situation is."
Inserting Iguodala back into the starting lineup Monday proved a spot-on move by Kerr, who made a similar switch during last year's Finals as Golden State beat James and Cleveland in six games for the franchise's first championship in 40 years. Kerr used Iguodala to start the second of a thrilling Game 6 comeback at Oklahoma City, too.
He's rarely rattled. Now, he will get up close and personal with James again.
"Dre's a great defender, I think one of the greatest we have in this league," teammate Draymond Green said. "LeBron's one of the greatest players we have in this league."
The Warriors greatly missed Iguodala's presence and energy off the bench in March as he nursed a left ankle injury.
After Golden State lost Game 1 to the Thunder at home, Iguodala missed his first five shots in a Game 2 win before a beautiful double-clutch, no-look layup in the final minute of the first half and then an alley-oop dunk the next time down that put the Warriors up 57-49 at halftime. He finished with 14 points.
"I was just trying to flip it up there, I was trying not to kill myself on the way down. I was trying to land," Iguodala said of his highlight-reel play.
The 32-year-old Iguodala, acquired in a trade from Denver on July 10, 2013, averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 37 minutes on the way to Finals MVP honors last June. That included a 25-point performance in the Game 6 clincher.
Iguodala took a trip to Germany last offseason to receive special injections in his troublesome knees. Lately, he has stayed ready for increased minutes through regular work in the weight room.
"I don't know if I adjust. In game 6 I was really pushing myself," he said. "I was tired but I just kept pushing, trying to build that endurance for what may and now lies ahead."
Whatever his assignment, Kerr appreciates Iguodala as one of the smartest players he knows.
"The job is difficult, but he's made for it. He really is. He reminds me so much of Scottie Pippen," Kerr said. "His body type, his intelligence, his ability to read what's happening at both ends. But particularly on defense, the instinct is there. Andre knows that's going to be his job, and he's always up to the task."
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
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