OKLAHOMA CITY –- The lights get brighter with each passing NBA playoff series and, so, too, does the game of Andre Iguodala.
After a regular season in which he missed 16 games due to injury and generally stayed in the shadows of such Warriors stars as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, Iguodala is making his star turn.
It’s that time.
“I’m just really locked in,” Iguodala understated after Game 2, in which he was fabulous as the Warriors thumped Oklahoma City to even the Western Conference Finals at one game apiece as the teams approach Game 3 here on Sunday.
Iguodala’s role against the Thunder is simple but oh, so, difficult. The 12-year veteran is being asked to come off the bench 30 minutes a game and defend Kevin Durant, the purest frontcourt scorer in the league.
Or rather, it was Iguodala who asked for this demanding job. It’s his nature to invite challenges upon himself.
“He knows what’s needed from him,” coach Steve Kerr told CSNBayArea.com. “When guys go down and he knows he has to score, he tends to shoot the ball better. When we need a certain matchup, he asks to guard that guy.
“But he’s now at the point in his career where he has to pace himself a little bit in the regular season. He knows what’s necessary in the playoffs. He knows the difference. He’s effective most all the time, but he really channels his energy when it counts the most. We need that.”
Let’s be clear: Iguodala is not the “KD Stopper,” not the master of stats, not the guy who demands the podium. He likes to fly under the radar. He likes to blend in. He seems to get more satisfaction from being involved in the process of a successful operation than in any acclaim that might come his way.
He’s a mentor his younger teammates. And even if not everyone always appreciates his darts -– Iguodala is a stickler for details, a quasi-assistant coach -– they treasure his voice.
“He’s a guy I’ve been learning from since he got here,”Draymond Green said.
“I watch him a lot and I learn from that,” Klay Thompson said. “Just playing against him I learned what tendencies he uses to be most effective. I’ve learned a ton from Andre.”
Iguodala, 32, is the team sage. He is accepted in that role because, well, he asks to defend the likes of Durant in the conference finals. And because he’ll ask to defend LeBron James in the NBA Finals – and does it so well Iguodala is named Finals MVP.
Durant could go for 40 points in Game 3 on Sunday or in Game 4 on Tuesday. He’s that good. But for now, he’s sitting on numbers the Warriors will take. He’s averaging 27.5 points, on 43.8-percent shooting, and has committed 13 turnovers. Durant through two games is minus-9. Iguodala is plus-19.
“He’s trying to bother KD as much as he can, swiping at the ball, making him uncomfortable with the dribble and just contesting shots,” Curry said of Iguodala. “Obviously, KD’s having big numbers, but he’s going to get points just because he has the ball in his hands so much.
“But over the course of 48 minutes, you hope that (Iguodala) can wear him down as much as he can. And we have to help him behind him on the defensive end.”
Iguodala points to his teammates.
“Defensively, the most important thing is for the four guys behind me to communicate, because I really can’t be effective if I don’t know what’s going on behind me. Draymond and (Andrew) Bogut and excellent at letting me know where to send my man and where the help is. That gives me some cushion to gamble or be more aggressive.
“When you’re on an island by yourself and you have no clue what’s behind you, you’re pretty much cooked with a guy like KD with the ball in his hands.”
Durant’s best run came in the second quarter of Game 2, when he scored 16 points -– 8 of which came in a 94-second stretch with Iguodala on the bench. Kerr couldn’t take any more. He summoned Iguodala back into the game, replacing Harrison Barnes, with 6:08 left in the quarter. Durant scored two more buckets (4 points) in the half.
Meanwhile, Iguodala ignited an 11-2 run over the final 1:47 of the half, dropping in two free throws, making an insanely acrobatic layup and throwing a dunk off a lob from Green. The Warriors took an eight-point lead into intermission and spent the rest of the game stretching out that margin.
It was six minutes that changed the game. Warriors raced to a 27-point victory.
“Andre does a lot for us, in a lot of ways, including working closely with the young guys,” Kerr said. “The leadership, combined with the selflessness, combined with the recognition that, ‘Hey, I’ve got to step it up now and it’s time for me to be a star.’ How many guys could do that?”