May 22, 2018, 12:32 pm
Andre Iguodala went scoreless in the second half of Game 3, and played eight fewer minutes than his fellow members of the famed Hamptons Five. After the Golden State Warriors regained control of the Western Conference Finals with a 41-point thrashing of the Houston Rockets, though, Steve Kerr couldn’t help but pay his thirtysomething glue guy the ultimate compliment.
“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we’re supposed to play,” he explained, “Andre’s right in the middle of it.”
Kerr saved even greater praise for Draymond Green, who played a team-high 37 minutes on Sunday night despite failing to outscore Iguodala.
“Oh, my gosh, Draymond, there is nobody else like him, honestly…I thought his performance tonight was unreal.”
Five weeks ago, before the Warriors’ real season finally tipped off, concern regarding the defending champions’ hopes of repeating sprouted from the possibility that Iguodala and Green weren’t the players they used to be. Golden State, with Kevin Durant in the fold, could get by with Steph Curry at something less than his peak, slowed by the inevitable foibles of being sidelined for two months with a knee injury. But if they couldn’t fall back on the baseline of all-encompassing genius that Iguodala and Green once provided with such relentless vigor, perhaps the Warriors really would be as vulnerable in the playoffs as their 7-10 finish to the regular season suggested.
With June fast approaching, that hasn’t quite come to pass. Golden State boasts a +10.5 net rating in the postseason, its second-highest mark of the Kerr era, and has generally been at its best when Iguodala and Green are on the floor. Their +17.4 net rating ranks third among all Warriors tandems in the playoffs, per NBA.com/stats, behind duos including one or the other. Lineups featuring Iguodala and Green assist on 70 percent of their baskets while yielding a 48.3 effective field goal percentage, and have managed to keep their collective head well above water without Durant or Curry in tow.
Iguodala and Green were both +26 in Game 3. The former had three rebounds, three assists and three steals to go along with his 10 points, and the latter grabbed 17 rebounds, doled out six assists and swiped two steals. As always, their impact extended far beyond the box score. There’s no stat for Green intuitively screening his own man to create a driving lane for Curry, nor an asterisk next to the assist Iguodala got for first making himself available, then keeping the defense occupied with a ball fake as Curry re-located behind the arc, caught and splashed.
Iguodala helped get Curry going in his perfect, game-breaking third quarter by stealing James Harden‘s lazy bounce pass and streaking the other way, missing a layup that his teammate cleaned up. Two possessions later, P.J. Tucker bullied his way inside Klay Thompson for an offensive rebound, but Green got his hands in the cookie jar to keep the ball alive; he wasn’t credited with a steal, and obviously not the assist that led to a wide open corner triple from Durant in transition, pushing Golden State’s lead to 64-43 and prompting a Rockets timeout – less than two minutes into the second half.
In the clip below, Iguodala and Green execute textbook help defense in the modern NBA. After Green traps the box to stymie Harden’s drive past Curry, Iguodala first splits the difference between the corner and wing as Thompson gets into Capela’s legs, then closes out hard to the corner once Curry is back in the play. Chris Paul attacks his high foot, getting middle, only to be met by Thompson, who left Capela at the rim knowing that Iguodala and Green, master communicators, Had the wherewithal to sort through the remaining flotsam on the fly.
Not every Harden blow-by has to end in an open shot. Incredibly nuanced help defense like this, with multiple switches on and off the ball, is a difficult dance to pull off. But with Iguodala and Harden roaming the floor, the Warriors routinely make it look easy.
The all-switch nature of this series, of course, really has made defense especially easy for Golden State. Houston, remember, was built to beat this team, the one that first made weaponizing like-sized defenders en vogue. Three years later, despite the ongoing presence of Iguodala and Green, that’s a concrete reality of the game more than a passing trend, and the Warriors suddenly find themselves in a numbers bind that makes them struggle to address it.
Among Golden State’s five centers, Kevon Looney has been the only fixture up front against the Rockets. David West was a DNP-CD in Game 3 after being exploited during his brief stints at Toyota Center; Jordan Bell seems to have taken that increasingly limited place in the rotation, and rightfully so. He’s been abused by Harden, both more recently and back on opening night, but is still a viable switch option, and elsewhere promotes the pace, energy and activity that defines the Warriors at their best. If West doesn’t have the juice to keep up with the Rockets, how could Zaza Pachulia or JaVale McGee?
With Iguodala and Green playing like they always do this time of year, the Warriors, despite the absence of Pat McCaw, have just enough playable wings for their surplus of centers not to be a debilitating roster weakness – when healthy, that is. They probably won’t be for Game 4, after Iguodala’s bruised left knee swelled up in the aftermath of Sunday’s win.
Luckily for Kerr, he still has three top-tier defensive options to try and stick with Harden. Durant got the lion’s share of work in Houston before it was re-assigned to Iguodala, and Green and Thompson have each fared admirably, at worst, in that regard over the years. Thank god for Kerr’s stubborn, confounding confidence in Looney during the last two regular seasons, too. He’s held the Rockets to a jarringly-low 15 points on 18 possessions as Paul’s primary defender, per NBA.com/stats, and has most often made Harden work for his points, which is all anyone could ask of perhaps the game’s best one-on-one defenders, let alone a seven-footer whose fourth-year option was declined last fall.
Looney has a wild 88.4 defensive rating in the Conference Finals, by far the lowest of any Golden State regular. He hasn’t been that good on switches; 52 minutes over three games is some fine small sample-size theater. But in addition to his stellar performance guarding Houston’s superstars, Looney has also been stellar as an off-ball defender – and, crucially against Houston, not just in the paint.
Iguodala shouldn’t play in Game 4 if he’s hobbled, and the Warriors will be fine regardless. They certainly have enough talent to beat the Rockets short-handed, especially at Oracle, and Looney’s play is a swing factor that’s clearly tilting their direction. A lineup constructed of he and Golden State’s four All-Stars has outscored Houston 48-35 in 21 minutes, according to NBA.com/stats. Shaun Livingston has also come alive of late.
All that said, Golden State will definitely be missing something without Iguodala, and the most basic statistics might not show it. The film surely will, though, and the final result could, too. Why? When Iguodala and Green don’t play like they did in Game 3, a championship level they’ve consistently reached over the past two months, is the only time the Warriors might be beatable.