Longing, rusted, furnace, daybreak, seventeen, benign, nine, homecoming, one, freight car. And just like that, Andre Iguodala is activated and ready for the next mission.
There's no need for him in the regular season. Sure, he's a great sixth man and his skills are often apparent, but the general insignificance of most of the 82 games in a regular season makes it hard to isolate and appreciate his impact. He's a good player and an even better defender, but above all, he's a weapon to unleash only in the most critical moments. For it is in those isolated snapshots, when narratives are forming and dying at high speeds, that Iguodala makes his greatest mark.
Game 6's assignment was to stop Kevin Durant, one of the top three best players in the NBA. A successful mission was essential. Without it, the winningest team in the history of basketball would go home empty-handed.
This is where you notice just how deadly Iguodala is. A task such as this would rightfully burden most players, not only because of the occasion, but also the skills needed to accomplish it. Yet this is when Iguodala thrives. He lives for these types of situations.
It's not much different than a year ago, when he was crowned NBA Finals MVP. The Warriors tried everything to stop LeBron James. When they double-teamed, James exploited them with his intelligent passing, creating opportunities for his teammates while still somehow managing to get his own points. When they dared him to beat them by himself, he responded by damn near doing so. It was only when the Warriors inserted Iguodala into the starting lineup to have him shadow James the entire game that the Warriors triumphed.
Iguodala didn't stop James completely. No one can. Nevertheless, Iguodala made James work hard for his points and exhausted the former MVP, all while aiding the Warriors with timely offensive contributions. Starting him proved to be the catalyst in the Warriors' six-game victory.
The Warriors were in an even more dire spot against the Thunder, and Iguodala was again the perfect man to stop in. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were the stars again, as offensive players tend to be. Thompson especially was in his human torch mode and will need to be extinguished with the same care and ferocity needed for California wildfires.
But even with the two ironically-named Splash Brothers on fire, Oklahoma City still had a legitimate shot at beating the Warriors. After all, the Warriors were down for most of the contest.
It was Iguodala who extinguished those hopes. Once again, he was inserted into the starting lineup after halftime. Once again, it was his defensive effort that assured the win for Golden State.
With the score tied at 101 after an Iguodala layup, Russell Westbrook stormed down the court to try to drag his team forward. But before he could even think, much less do, Iguodala swiped the ball from him before making the pass to Thompson for the go-ahead three.
On the next possession, Kevin Durant try to do what Westbrook couldn't. He forced a three-point response to Thompson, except with Iguodala smothering him, it came up short.
Iguodala showed up far before those two minutes, too. As he did to LeBron, Iguodala made life a living hell for Durant. In one instance, he closely guarded Durant on the right block when Durant took one dribble to the right and tried to shoot. Before Durant even jumped, Iguodala smacked the ball from his hands. As Durant hung in the air empty-handed, Iguodala dove to try to save the loose ball. While he didn't corral it, his effort created a shorter shot clock that resulted in another Thunder miss.
That wasn't a steal, block, offensive foul or any play easily measure in the box score, but it was quintessential Iguodala. He specializes in those defensive disruptions. To put it simply: He makes it extremely hard for the world's best basketball players to play basketball.
Frustrating is the best word to describe him. He's fast and strong, with a very quick mind and even quicker hands. While he matches most opponents with his strength and athleticism, it's his intelligence that allows him to guard anyone without making silly mistakes or drawing fouls. He's malleable, too: Golden State gets to deploy him from the bench or bring him into the starting lineup when they start to suffer. He's the proverbial wrench that ruins opponents' best plans.
Such a player is only at his best when he can cruise through the regular season. Iguodala must wait, encased in ice, while the rest of his teammates fend off the challengers before the playoffs. That's not his time. Those moments are much too small for him.
Facing elimination in a loud, hostile environment? That's his time. Those are his moments. That is when he turns the screws on the opponent's best player, denying them any decent opportunities until the game's been decided. In these situations, he's not flashy like Steph or Klay, but he's just as critical.
And absolutely unfair, if you're the player trying to score on him.
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