Sure, Stephen Curry splashed it up. But this Warriors victory, the one that made an NBA championship seem not just possible but probable, belonged as much to two players whose combined points couldn’t match what Curry had on his own.
Andre Iguodala, starting once again in Steve Kerr’s smallball scheme, had 14 points, and Leandro Barbosa had 13 off the bench. By his own self, Curry picked up 37. Yet Iguodala, again with the unachievable task of defending LeBron James, and Barbosa, a.k.a. “The Brazilian Blur,” reminded there is so much to basketball beyond putting the ball in the basket.
Not that scoring ever is to be underestimated. In fact, Iguodala’s ability to do just that loomed large in a late-game sequence that lifted the Warriors to a 3-2 series lead in the Finals. The importance of the play can’t be overstated about a 104-91 win that, for a few agonizing moments Sunday night at the Oracle, seemed to be getting
This is the way it went: With around four minutes left and the Warriors, who already had a six-point lead ripped away, now ahead 86-84. Iguodala hit a 3-pointer from 24 feet. Then, after a Klay Thompson miss and a Harrison Barnes rebound, Iguodala would put in a layup. Suddenly, screamingly, it was 91-84. Goodbye, Cleveland.
Doesn’t everybody in Brazil play soccer? Well, yes, except for a guy like Barbosa. The 6-foot-3 swingman has been on the Suns and Celtics, the Raptors and Pacers. This season he joined the Warriors as a free agent. What a deal.
Kerr didn’t like what was happening early so, so with three minutes left in the first quarter, the coach pulled Thompson and replaced him with Barbosa. Again, what a deal. Barbosa sped up an offense Kerr thought was lagging.
“Oh, L.B was fantastic,” said Kerr of Barbosa. “He gives us 13 points and 17 minutes when we had a little foul trouble early on, and his defense was good, but not surprising. L.B. has been around a long time (12 years). He’s got a lot of playoff experience, and he’s had an excellent series for us.”
No more than the series of Iguodala, whose play Thursday night in Game 4, his first start of the season, was instrumental in the Warriors regaining their mojo — and their confidence. Sunday, in the opening lineup again, he did everything well except shoot free throws — going 2 of 11 from the line.
“Andre was brilliant again,” said Kerr, putting into words what Iguodala had put into his play. “He does everything for us. He’s our best defender on LeBron (that James had 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists indicates hints at what a poor defender might allow.) He’s an incredible decision-maker. I mean, seven assists for Andre, no turnovers. He rebounds. He guards everybody. When he’s off LeBron, he goes on to a shooter and stays at home. He’s a brilliant defensive player. The free throws? It
Iguodala sees a different game than others. He’s 31, in his 11th year, a coach on the floor. He’s acting and reacting. And so far, most importantly, he and the Warriors are winning.
“I think what makes both teams great,” said Iguodala, “is that every player understands their role. Guys on this team understand Steph is a great player. He’s going to make everyone else on the team great, and at the same time, we’re going to help him be great.”
Unquestionably the greatest player on either on either team is James — meaning on defense, Iguodala has the most difficult assignment. “It’s mental more than anything,” he said about facing James. “The mental challenge us you’re not going to live up no matter what. You’ve got to just keep grinding it out.”
One way or another, the grind is very close to an end.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at email@example.com.