By Mark Plumlee
Special to S.F. Examiner
PORTLAND — The Golden State Warriors received some positive news on Sunday morning, when the MRI results for Andre Iguodala’s left-calf tightness came back negative. The veteran forward exited Game 3 in the third quarter after only playing 18 minutes, and is listed as questionable for Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in Portland on Monday night.
If Iguodala sits in Game 4, he will join Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on what may be the most-accomplished injury reserve list in NBA history. Between the three of them, they have accumulated a regular-season MVP, three Finals MVPs, 15 All-Star appearances and 10 All-NBA selections.
Durant has not played since straining his right calf in Game 5 of the Warriors second-round series against the Rockets. He did not travel to Portland, and is not expected to return this series. Cousins has been cleared for contact in practice, and could return to the court later this series for the first time since tearing his left quadriceps early in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
In their absence, several Warriors bench players have stepped up and delivered huge minutes for head coach Steve Kerr. Alfonzo McKinnie filled Iguodala’s role in Game 3, hitting both of his shots and playing lockdown defense on Damian Lillard. He finished the game with a +24 in 21 minutes. Reserve center Jordan Bell was called upon to start the second half and was instrumental in helping the Warriors outscore the Blazers by 16 points in the third quarter. He finished the game with +10 in 15 minutes. Backup point guard Quinn Cook overcame early struggles to help put the game away with six points early in the fourth quarter.
“The guys on the bench have to understand their role,” said Kerr. “They have to embrace it, they have to succeed in it, and they have to support everyone else when they’re not getting their chance. When that happens, with a player like Quinn Cook, the rest of the team sees it.”
Perhaps the biggest reason the Warriors have been able to weather the injuries has been the outstanding overall play of Draymond Green. The bombastic forward is playing some of the best — and most controlled — basketball of his career.
“I’ve definitely been aware of the improvement in his focus, and I think that’s been really obvious in the last couple weeks,” said Kerr. “I think it’s important because when he gets upset and emotional, it costs us. We lose our focus as a team because he’s our leader, our emotional leader. If he can play like he did [in Game 3], in terms of moving onto the next play, that’s a huge boost to our team.”
Green had accrued three technical fouls in the playoffs, where a total of seven would earn him a one-game suspension, but he hasn’t beenc called for one since Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets. After Game 3 against Portland, Green said that he has had several conversations with his mom and fiance about his antics on the court and the effects of his body language on the team. He mentioned a specific moment earlier in the year when he lost his composure in an argument with referee Zach Zarba. After that, he realized that his focus needed to improve if he was going to be a leader for the Warriors.
“After the game, it was like, wow, that’s embarrassing,” said Green. “So it was something that I wanted to be mindful of, especially coming into this playoffs. I’ve been the victim of that type of scenario before, and I can’t make the same mistake twice. I realized how much energy I was wasting on something I can’t change.”
Green also explained the effect his two young children have had on his in-game attitude, and the example that he wants to set for them. When his son plays on his Fisher Price hoop at home, he mimics his father’s on-court behavior, stomping around and antagonizing his opponents.
“I’ve seen how impressionable kids are at that age, so I just really want to be a good example and show them the right way,” said Green. “[My son] has been shooting and flopping, and I’m like, ‘You gotta stop watching the NBA.’ He’s been falling on the floor, like, ‘Ohh, Dada, help me up.’”
The Warriors have an opportunity on Monday night to sweep the series in Portland. If they close the Trail Blazers out in Game 4, they will have nine days of rest before the NBA Finals, which could be a boon for the players nursing injures.