OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Andre Iguodala’s impressive resume heading into this season featured an Olympic gold medal, All-Star appearance and first-team All-NBA defensive team honors.
One of the few things Iguodala hadn’t done since entering the league as a first-round draft pick in 2004 was come into the game off the bench.
So when Iguodala easily accepted that role as a reserve for the Golden State Warriors back in training camp, it helped set the tone for the team’s success.
David Lee also went from All-Star to reserve without a peep. Andrew Bogut didn’t bristle when he got his fewest shots per game as a pro. The players on the deep bench had no complaints when they went from key contributors to not playing depending on the matchups.
But it started when first-year coach Steve Kerr decided to start Harrison Barnes over Iguodala.
“There’s no excuse for anybody else,” Bogut said. “When you have David Lee getting DNPs and have Andre Iguodala backing up a third-year player in Harrison Barnes and all these kinds of things and not complaining you don’t have a right to complain. It’s been infectious for our team chemistry.”
Including the playoffs, Iguodala had played 806 NBA games before this season and never come in as a reserve. In fact, no player in that span had played more games without being a reserve across the entire league.
After a little adjustment, Iguodala has taken quickly to his new role.
“Usually you can let the game come to you starting,” he said. “You don’t have to force any shots. I know I’m going to get my shots here. I know my rhythm will come to me. I know I’m always going to be loose. But coming off the bench, you’re a little stiff. You want to make an impact when you’re in the game, so you have to pick and choose when to force up a shot, when to let the offense come to you, when to be aggressive. That is probably the hardest part.”
Iguodala has handled it well but perhaps never as well as he did in Golden State’s 108-100 overtime win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Cleveland on Thursday night.
Iguodala hit 6 of his 8 shots — including a 3-pointer while wearing only one shoe — for 15 points.
Perhaps more important was his defense against LeBron James. Despite scoring 44 points, James had trouble when matched up with Iguodala, shooting just 4 for 13 in that matchup with only two made baskets inside the 3-point line.
And it was Iguodala who forced James into a tough fall-away jumper at the end of regulation that helped the Warriors send the game to overtime.
“Andre is able to act before something happens rather than just react,” assistant coach Ron Adams said. “I think he understands who he’s playing against well. He’s very cerebral in that way. Smart player defensively plus he has a nice long defensive body. You put that combination together and he’s been a very effective player over the course of time.”
Iguodala has been the key on a second-unit that has proven so valuable all season for the Warriors. Golden State’s reserves outscored Cleveland’s bench 34-9 in Game 1.
In what has been a frequent occurrence this postseason, the bench helped the Warriors overcome a slow start that put them down 14 points in the first quarter.
“Depth is great as long as guys are willing to sacrifice, and it’s not easy to sacrifice in the NBA because careers are at stake, money is at stake, egos,” Kerr said. “That’s, I think, what separates a lot of the really good teams and teams like ours who have made deep championship runs. When you’re in The Finals, you don’t get that far without that kind of sacrifice.”
It’s something that has not gone unnoticed by the younger players who have the beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by former All-Stars like Iguodala and Lee.
“For them to kind of take that a backseat and let us young guys grow and develop in this league, that means a lot,” Barnes said. “We could easily be in a situation where they say, ‘Look we’re the vets. You guys are young players, you guys will have your time. This is about us.’ But they didn’t. They were entirely selfless and that’s allowed us to grow.”
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