OAKLAND — Andre Iguodala searched fervently through a crowded sideline after Thursday night’s 114-111 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Amongst the crowd and security personnel, he found Stephen Curry, and aggressively high-fived him once, twice, three times.
In the final 12 seconds of the Golden State Warriors win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Iguodala had stripped star Damian Lillard on the left wing as he went for a game-tying three. He high-stepped to mid-court as the buzzer sounded and the confetti began to fall. After finding Curry, Iguodala — who scored only four points, but had arguably the biggest play of the game — sprinted up the tunnel to escape.
After a gut-check 18-point loss to a Golden State team without Kevin Durant, Portland had disrupted the fine balance that allowed the Warriors to win two games without the top scorer in the NBA. Then, Curry scored 11 of his game-high 37 in a 39-point third for Golden State, and the Warriors found just enough defense down the stretch to complete a 17-point comeback to take a 2-0 series lead into Portland.
”We stole that game,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “I thought they outplayed us for much of the night, but we brought enough competitive fire in the second half to overcome their great play.”
The Trail Blazers made nine more 3-pointers than Golden State, tied for the biggest differential by a team in a playoff game at Oracle Arena, and the biggest of the Kerr era. They scored 18 points on 10 Warriors turnovers in the first half, out-rebounding them 23-20. Lillard and CJ McCollum scored 23 and 22 points, respectively, while Lillard hit 5-of-12 from beyond the 3-point arc, and Portland went 18-of-39 from long distance. Yet, the game still came down to the hands of the 35-year old Iguodala.
“It’s incredible,” said Klay Thompson. “That’s why he’s a perennial all-defensive player. He’s actually a good boxer. He’s a good golfer. His hands are great. He’s been swiping at the ball since he got into this league. I actually read Mamba Mentality, and Kobe [Bryant] gives him a great shout out of how good of hands he has … He has some of the best hands in the world.”
It wasn’t the first time Iguodala has made a strip in the final moments of a close game. He did it in 2017 season against LeBron James in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, a play that all but assured Golden State’s eventual title win.
“The one thing you don’t want to do is give up a three,” Iguodala said. “You actually can take ristsk outside the 3-point lines and be extra aggressive. The key is not to give that up.”
The game was in Iguodala’s hands because of a listless and disjointed first half. Life without Durant has been a delicate balance, and in the Warriors’ two wins without him this postseason, they had to get contributions from both Thompson and Curry, as well as the bench. They barely got one out of those three taken care of in the first half, as Thompson had nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and Curry, despite scoring 19 points, went 2-for-6 from beyond the arc.
The bench held its own defensively for the end of the first quarter and start of the second, but despite a block, four points and dilligent work on the glass by Jordan Bell in his first 5:30, and seven points from Kevon Looney, there wasn’t much punch from the reserves.
Portland got ahead by as many as 17, and led by double digits before Lillard hit his first basket. McCollum scored 16 first-half points, and Lillard hit three 3-pointers in the final 3:50, two from over 32 feet away.
The Trail Blazers continually trapped Curry and kept the ball out of his hands, but coming out of the locker room, he hit two from long distance, and buried a breakaway left elbow jumper with 8:35 left. He stood, seemingly glued to the floor, as Kerr called time out. Still down by nine points, a grin spread across his face after cutting Portland’s lead to under double digits for the first time in over seven minutes of game clock. The Oracle Arena crowd roared, as the Warriors reeled off a 13-0 run to open the half.
“We obviously got challenged at halftime to play with more energy, more fight, more competitiveness and we obviously answered it,” Curry said.
The Warriors out-rebounded the Trail Blazers 30-14 after the break, began trapping McCollum and turned the ball over just six times. With 3:47 left in the third quarter, Thompson hit a 3-pointer across from the Warriors’ bench to give them their first lead since 9:02 in the first quarter. Golden State outscored Portland 39-24 in the third to tie the game at 89, with Curry scoring 11 in 12 minutes and dishing out four assists.
“If we can bottle up our performance in the second half tonight and carry that on the plane with us tomorrow and get off to a good start on Saturday, that obviously will be helpful,” Curry said.
Kerr put the second unit — Shaun Livingston, Jonas Jerebko, Bell, Quinn Cook and Thompson — on the floor to start the fourth, a sign of how much faith he’s had to put in the unit with both Durant and DeMarcus Cousins down. Lillard hit a 33-footer to take back the lead, and Seth Curry hit a three to keep the lead at three, but over the first 3:56 of the fourth quarter, the lineup served its purpose. When Draymond Green, Curry, Looney and Iguodala came back in at 8:04, the deficit was only three. Green returned with four fouls, and played the final seven minutes with five, but still had three assists, two rebounds and a block in the fourth, coming close to a double-double on the night with 16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks.
After a 5-0 Blazers run, Lillard knocked Curry to the ground on a 3-point attempt with 2:01 to go. After slowly getting up, hands on his own face, Curry hit all three free throws, giving Golden State a 110-108 lead. A Seth Curry three briefly put Portland in front, but a lob by Green to Looney gave Golden State the lead for good. A Green backdoor cut behind Seth Curry, opened him up for a Stephen Curry pass for a layup, setting up the final possession.
“[It] speaks so highly of a guy that can have a game like he had, where offensively, there weren’t many opportunities, but he makes the biggest play of the game to help us win,” Curry said of Iguodala, who was a big part of holding McCollum and Lillard to 36 combined points in Game 1, but scored only four points himself in Game 2. “He’s so excited about that part, his role for our team. We going to celebrate that.”