By Mark Plumlee
Special to S.F. Examiner
PORTLAND — Already playing without Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors will face another challenge in Game 4 as they try to close out the Portland Trail Blazers without veteran forward Andre Iguodala, who will miss Monday night with a sore left calf, and be replaced in the starting lineup by Alfonzo McKinnie. Despite the mounting list of injuries to key players, the Warriors haven’t missed a beat, winning their last four playoff games and controlling the Western Conference Finals with 3-0 series lead.
Iguodala, who left Game 3 in the third quarter with tightness in his left calf after only playing 18 minutes, received an MRI Sunday morning. The MRI results were negative, so the decision to hold him out of Game 4 is more a precaution than a necessity. When asked whether Iguodala is physically able to play, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr declined to answer, only stating that he will not play in Game 4.
“With Andre out, [McKinnie] is definitely going to get more minutes,” said Kerr before the game. “So will Jonas [Jerebko], and possibly Quinn [Cook] if we decide to go small depending on how the game is going. Everybody has to be ready. We’ve got a lot of guys down right now.”
McKinnie was the main recipient of Iguodala’s minutes in Game 3, and he filled them abley. The young wing performed his best Iguodala impersonation, defending the Blazers guards the full 94 feet, keeping the ball moving on offense and crashing the glass hard to create second-chance opportunities. He made both his shots and snagged three offensive rebounds in the decisive Warriors win, finishing with a +24 in 21 minutes.
“He is a great athlete, and he combines that with really good anticipation,” Kerr said about McKinnie’s rebounding. “He finds a way to locate the ball, has a good feel for where it’s going, and beats his man to the spot. He generates a lot of extra possessions.”
Although he is only averaging 3.3 points per game in the series, Iguodala has played an instrumental role in building the Warriors commanding series lead. He started each of the first three games, played excellent help defense to wall off Blazer drives, and delivered the most important defensive play of the series when he stripped Damian Lillard at the end of regulation in Game 2 to complete the Warrior comeback.
Lillard confirmed in an ESPN report Sunday morning that he is playing through a separated rib. He sustained the injury when Kevon Looney fell on him as they both dove for a loose ball in Game 2. Lillard, who played with extra padding on his left side in Game 3, downplayed the effects of the injury on his performance thus far in the series.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s affecting my game,” said Lillard. “It’s there, but it’s not something that’s affecting anything that I’m doing. Obviously you feel it, but that’s it.”
Whether it’s due to the injury or the Warriors selling out on defense to stop him, Lillard has struggled mightily in the series, scoring 20.3 points per game while shooting 32.6% from the field. He has one more made field goal (15) than turnovers (14). The Warriors are doubling Lillard off every pick, and Draymond Green is planting himself in the key to protect the rim in case Lillard splits the trap. Lillard has been forced to give the ball up, and his teammates have not been able to consistently make the open shot or attack the rotating defense.
If the Warriors can close the Blazers out in Game 4, they will earn nine days of rest before the NBA Finals. Those rest days could prove vital to a team that has so many players nursing injuries.
Kerr, a self-proclaimed Game of Thrones fan, mentioned on Sunday that he was conflicted between watching the series finale and Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He was prompted to give his thoughts on the final episode of the wildly popular series.
“Meh” answered Kerr.