Iguodala emerges from the shadows

Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala is expected to be tasked with defending against Cleveland's star forward LeBron James during the NBA Finals.
Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala is expected to be tasked with defending against Cleveland's star forward LeBron James during the NBA Finals.

OAKLAND • Over the past four years, Andre Iguodala has been an Eastern Conference All-Star, a gold-winning Olympian for the United States and the Most Valuable Player of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.

So has LeBron James, his anticipated defensive match-up in the NBA Finals rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But here is the point: That is a resume befitting a superstar shoe-company pitchman, meaning James - not so much a player like Iguodala.

Iguodala, the Warriors' redoubtable swingman, fits few basketball stereotypes and positional characterisations. He is the epitome of That Essential Intangible Guy.

He can be a 1.98m-tall shooting guard, and, while no great marksman, he has a knack for knocking down big shots. He can be a small forward who can guard much bigger forwards, a defensive stalwart who bodied up on James in last year's Finals, making life trying for the NBA's most combustible package of power and speed.

They will most likely become closely reacquainted in Game 1 today, and Iguodala's impact will be a key to the series. Can he again hold his own without help when James posts up on the left block?

Iguodala is highly accomplished but hardly celebrated - not until the biggest games of the season, or the season itself, are on the line.

Take Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City, in which he got into the space and head of another shoe-company darling, Kevin Durant. Iguodala's strip of a driving Durant late in Game 6 with the Warriors trailing by six resulted in a perfect long pass down the court from Iguodala to Klay Thompson for one of Thompson's 11 three-pointers.

Facing a potential deficit of eight, the Warriors were suddenly down by only three. The momentum changed and the Thunder were permanently spooked.

In Game 7, Iguodala played a team-high 43 minutes after averaging 26.6 minutes during the regular season, and as assistant coach Luke Walton noted: "He was on the court every time Durant was on the court."

Iguodala also started, after coming off the bench for the previous six, bringing to mind how Steve Kerr rearranged his line-up after losing two of the first three games in last year's Finals. Once Iguodala was inserted, the Warriors won, with his defence contributing mightily to James' 39.8 per cent shooting for the series. And Iguodala's 25 points in the Game 6 clincher cemented an improbable rise to Finals MVP.

He is ready to clamp down on James once again. "It's hard to force a guy to one thing," Iguodala said about defending against the four-time MVP. "You try to take him out of his comfort zones more than anything."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2016, with the headline 'Iguodala emerges from the shadows'. Print Edition | Subscribe