OAKLAND — If there is a window of opportunity for the Cavaliers to break through against the Warriors and give themselves a chance to win the NBA championship, it likely will come early in the series.
Warriors super-sub Andre Iguodala, who traditionally has been their best defender against LeBron James, was ruled out of Game 1 Thursday night at Oracle Arena because of a painful left leg bone bruise.
During Wednesday’s Media Day session, Iguodala expressed hope that he will be able to play in the series but also admitted some concern. “I’m just trying to figure out how to move in general,” he said. “Making some progress. Slower than we expected, but we’re just being realistic.”
Iguodala missed the final four games of the Western Conference finals against Houston and will have been rested for two weeks by the time Game 2 of the Finals takes place Sunday. Although Iguodala comes off the bench, he often finishes games, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr noted that he was MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals “largely because he took that role of guarding LeBron but also because of what he did offensively. Some encouraging signs, but we have ruled him out for Game 1.”
Kerr said it will take a group effort to defend James, who was averaging 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the playoffs. Power forward Kevin Durant will be the primary defender, but he will get help from Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston.
“They’re all doing well individually, but none of them play like Andre,” Kerr said. “So we’ve had to adapt our style a little bit.”
Iguodala smiled when reminded that the analytics said he was far more effective at guarding James than Durant was during last year’s Finals. “I’m going to quote one of my favorite rappers, Joe Budden,” Iguodala said. “He said numbers always lie. You can’t always believe in the numbers.”
Describing what it will take to make it difficult for James, Iguodala said, “I just think staying in tune, staying locked in. LeBron is a very cerebral player. He does a very good job of always being a threat whether he’s on or off the ball. He does a really good job of making his teammates threats at any given time. So you’ve got to stay locked in. You can’t take any possessions off.”
James appreciates the impact Iguodala, 34, can have on a game, especially at the defensive end.
“He has very, very quick hands,” he said. “That doesn’t get talked about a lot. He has the ability to react to the ball either in flight or while you’re dribbling or while you pick the ball up. At the end of the day, his athleticism allows him to play some of the premier perimeter players in our league.”
James said he was hoping the Cavs would take Iguodala in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft. “We were one pick away from drafting him before Philly took him [with the ninth pick)]. Then we selected Luke Jackson from Oregon. I had loved him at Arizona and was hoping that he slid to us with that pick.”
It didn’t happen, and Iguodala went on to be a thorn in James’ side over the years. But for now, all Iguodala can do is watch.
Asked if that’s been tough, he said, “I don’t look at it that way. I think I asked myself one time, ‘What would I do out there?’ That’s just wasted thoughts and energy. Just stay in the here and now and do what you can to help. It’s how can I help that guy in the position he’s in to help the team win.”