In a thrilling start to the 2015 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors had the last laugh, nearly shutting out the Cleveland Cavaliers in the overtime period. As expected, LeBron James took over for much of the night, scoring a total of 44 points while shooting 18-38 from the field. But despite that All-Star performance, there was one man that consistently gave him trouble all night. His name? Andre Iguodala.
James’s final numbers were clearly quite good. But Iguodala, coming off the bench, often went one-on-one with the King and performed excellently. Against Iguodala, James went 4-14 from the field for 11 points. In the 4th quarter and overtime, James shot 2-7 from the field with Iguodala shadowing him:
#Cavs LeBron vs Iguodala: 11 points on 4-14, including 2-7 in 4th Q/OT. Against everyone else: 27 points on 12-22
— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) June 5, 2015
James had his way with the other defenders (these numbers are him being defended in the half court), and these statistics validate Iguodala’s efforts. Anyone that watched the entirety of Game 1 would agree: Iguodala played his heart out and was a vital component to the Warriors’ victory. He also shot efficiently from the field, going 6-8 with 15 points. One of those attempts was a clutch three-pointer in the corner that he made with one sneaker on. In the words of color commentator and former coach Jeff Van Gundy, “That should be worth four points.”
At the start of the regular season, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr elected to have Iguodala come off the bench and went with Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup. As most athletes with pride would be, Iguodala wasn’t exactly pleased with the news, but he committed to his role with the team. Iguodala finished the regular season with career lows in points per game, assists and rebounds (7.8 PPG, 3.0 APG, and 3.3 RPG), but he remained an important contributor.
When it came time to elect the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award earlier this season, Iguodala was self deprecating to say the least: “I was hoping I didn’t get it. I really didn’t have a good year, so I’m glad Lou got it. That’s my man. He had a great year for their team, and he’s deserved it a few years…I’ve been terrible, but the team’s been playing well. I had a stretch where I was OK. It was like two or three weeks, so I’m trying to get back to that.” (Iguodala was referring to the Toronto Raptors’ Louis Williams, who won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award last month.)
As harsh as Iguodala’s comments were, he showed how valuable he can be to his team on Thursday night. If he continues his valiant efforts against James and challenges him to shoot perimeter jumpers, (James has shot extremely poorly from outside the paint this postseason, and especially from beyond the arc), Iguodala may be a bit more pleased with his playing performance.
The old expression “Defense wins championships” comes to mind here. Kawhi Leonard won the NBA Finals MVP last season for his tireless defense and timely shooting. Like Iguodala, Leonard often guarded James one-on-one. The mentality was similar with Leonard as it was with Iguodala: Be fierce in the paint and do what you can to force James to take jump shots.
Both teams have played their first hand. The Warriors let James have a day but dared others to step up. The Cavaliers were content running a lot of isolation with James, but came up short. Fittingly, the Cavaliers will likely take a page out of the Warriors’ playbook in Game 2 and do what they can with screens to work more favorable matchups for players like James and Timofey Mozgov in the paint.
That’s because Iguodala has made one thing abundantly clear: He isn’t afraid of the King.