OAKLAND — Kevin Durant was the clear choice for Finals MVP, but Andre Iguodala was the MVP of Game 5 — and it’s hard to tell which was more crucial to the Golden State Warriors winning their second title in three years on Monday.
The Dubs won, 129-120, and were leading for most of the second half, with leads that swelled to as many as 17. But they didn’t look good early.
No, they played with the tightness that cost them the Larry O’Brien trophy last year.
Then with 7:58 remaining in the second quarter and the Warriors down by four, Andre Iguodala drove down a wide-open lane, held the ball straight in the air and slammed home a tomahawk dunk.
It was the turning point of the Warriors’ gutsiest performance of the playoffs. And it only made sense to be coming from the most veteran player in the team’s regular rotation over the last three years.
“Steve Kerr, he said it a few times during the game. He’s like, How does it feel to be the only adult on the court?” Iguodala said after the game. “And it’s stressful because it’s a hard job that goes unnoticed.”
It didn’t on Monday, when Iggy scored 20 points in 38 minutes.
Gone were the memories of James pinning a crucial layup off the backboard and in was Iguodala streaking for slams, leaving nothing to chance on all four times he had a chance to flush it home.
The 38 minutes the 13-year vet put in were the second-most for the entire season. Anything to get the job done. Anything for the team.
“Nobody cared, as long as we won,” a reflective Kevin Durant said from the podium. “Andre Iguodala, he continued to preach that every single day. It’s all about the group. If your intentions are good, then that means as a team that we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Warriors reached the highest heights, which was their only option considering the expectations. And getting there wasn’t going to be possible with just the powers of Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
It took an extra influence, an extra push. And that’s what Iguodala — along with David West and Shaun Livingston — embodied this year.
Iguodala and West are former all-stars, once capable of carrying teams to the playoffs but not to the top of the mountaintop. It took some seasoning and the help of those current superstars.
But it was a true symbiotic relationship.
“[Iguodala] is one of the best professionals I’ve ever been around,” a relatively effusive Thompson said. “Two years ago, he went to the bench, and it rewarded him, he was Finals MVP. Same thing this year.”
It’s the understanding of the larger picture that’s always set Iguodala apart from so many of his peers.
That’s why he so fully took on the role of mentor for the younger players. All year he was working with rookie Patrick McCaw about understanding how to pick your spots and learning how to be a real pro. Allowing the second-rounder to play key minutes in a close-out game of the NBA Finals.
And it’s why he’ll succeed no matter where his path takes him.
Iguodala is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and don’t believe it slips his consciousness for even a moment.
He jokes about not wanting to compliment general manager Bob Myers because “we’re about to go heads up in negotiating” while he has goggles around his head that are meant to protect his eyes from celebratory champagne.
The whole scene sums up Iguodala’s time in Oakland perfectly: A champion who always knows how he fits into the bigger landscape. And in the Warriors’ successful clinching of their second title in three years, he was a keystone piece.
Contact Jacob C. Palmer at email@example.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.