LeBron James scored 44 points in Game 1, an enormous performance from the NBA's best. If not for Andre Iguodala, though, he might have broken Elgin Baylor's Finals scoring record of 61.
That's how good the Warriors' underappreciated sixth man was on Thursday. After Harrison Barnes' inspired but ineffectual coverage early allowed James to score nine points in the game's first seven minutes, Iguodala entered the game. From that point on, every movement James made was tracked, every attempt to break free hampered and every shot contested.
This game was a testament to both players' abilities, but everyone knew what sort of role James would serve in this series. He's the best, most talked about player in American sports and proved it with so many great shots. Iguodala exerting his influence on this game in the way he did stands out more because it was unexpected -- or at the very least, not guaranteed.
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Iguodala was incredible all over in 32 minutes off the bench. He scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting while knocking down a couple of three-pointers and punctuating two quarters with slams. When Cleveland's offense devolved into the simplistic James isolations we all knew were coming, James could only manage to score just seven points on 13 shots with Iguodala as the primary defender, according to My Synergy Sports. By contrast, when Iguodala was off the floor, James hit 50 percent of his looks -- 9-of-18 from the floor.
It's a testament to Iguodala's adaptability that he's a crucial cog on a great Warriors team. Before signing with the Warriors in 2013, Iguodala had started all 695 games of his NBA career. Besides his rookie season, he never played fewer than 34 minutes per game. He was a Team USA Olympian and one year removed from making his first NBA All Star game with the 76ers. By signing with the Warriors, where he's averaging 29 minutes a game, and then accepting his move to the bench this season, Iguodala put all his previous accomplishments aside to focus on helping build a team that's truly special.
Golden State doesn't need the Iguodala who spent eight years as a star and lead scorer in Philadelphia, nor the guy who reprised the same role for a season in Denver. The Warriors need a completely different player, one who recognizes his best shots come from ball movement and his most important impact is the quiet suffocation of opposing stars when needed.
Still, there's no doubt the new Iguodala who dominated on Thursday is someone shaped by his past.
"Aaron McKie, when I was a rookie, he was walking me through it, because I was starting and guarding a lot of those guys," Iguodala said after the game. "He always said make it hard for them. NBA is about scoring. You've got a lot of talented players, guys are going to score the points. You've got to get stops. The thing to do is make it hard for them. Don't foul them. Make them take tough shots and the routes hard. He kind of just gave me the ins and outs of how to be a good defender in this league."
His coach echoed the same sentiments, praising Iguodala for his efforts in this game and all season, both visible and otherwise.
Iguodala held his own in the post and absorbed the pounding of James throughout the game. All but four of James' baskets came outside of the restricted area. "And, every once in a while," McKie's advice continued, "try to get a steal, try to get a tip. Throw them off-rhythm."
Iguodala did that, too.
He's not a star or even a starter anymore, but without Iguodala, the Warriors don't win Game 1. Not every 31-year-old in the NBA today could give up what Iguodala did, but his selflessness helped Golden State achieve a historic season that's now three wins from a title.
"The key to it is making it as hard for them as possible," McKie told the rookie way back in 2004. It's a lesson that Iguodala has carried with him ever since.