OAKLAND, Calif. — On the morning of Game 2, moments after a light team warmup, the practice court of the Golden State Warriors cleared … save for one solitary player. What transpired next was done behind closed doors and so we can only assume that Stephen Curry did what Curry usually does in these situations: Dribble drills, shooting drills, rinse and repeat.
Several hours later, though, at Oracle Arena, the only bounce he showed was when he rose from his chair during timeouts, wearing a plaid jacket and a satisfying grin. For the second time the Warriors didn’t need Curry against the San Antonio Spurs which means everything is going according to plan for Golden State in this first round series. He can relax; the Warriors, so far anyway, got this.
While Curry continues to mend from a knee injury, the Warriors continue to make a convincing case that they don’t need him, at least not now, maybe not ever in the first round or even the second. Coach Steve Kerr made an interesting observation weeks ago after Curry went down, that they were good enough to beat anyone without him. So far, so … prophetic: It’s 2-0 Warriors now in the best-of-seven after Monday’s 116-101 victory, with no meaningful slippage in sight for the defending champions.
To prove his point, Kerr put Andre Iguodala in Curry’s starting point guard spot to start the series. It was a bold move but also an unintentionally arrogant one as well, because Iguodala has only started eight regular-season games in four years and has never played the position before in his 13-year NBA career.
Iguodala opened Game 2 with three shots from deep, then settled in and supplied defense, some boards, a few chest passes and other intangibles that the Warriors have come to expect from him. He finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists in just 27 minutes. This is what the Spurs are up against.
“I just love his poise,” said Durant. “He’s a veteran leader for us. A guy that just kind of keeps it real with everybody … he doesn’t have an ego and he’s going to go out there and do the best job he can do. Even if he’s not making shots, he adds so much value to our team with his energy, his deflections, his rebounds, driving to the rim and getting hockey assists. We appreciate him for it.”
The Warriors were sloppy initially and trailed the Spurs by six at halftime after taking San Antonio’s best shot, yet won by 15. That’s because even without Curry, the reinforcements are deep, fully functional and clinically capable.
The Spurs still have no resistance to offer for Durant and Klay Thompson, who combined for 63 points. And the Golden State defense once again held the Spurs under 42 percent shooting, an especially deadly number when LaMarcus Aldridge (34 points) is the only player worth a double team.
“No one can make up Steph’s contributions individually,” said Thompson. “That’s got to be done as a team, and even then it’s hard, the way he can shoot the ball.”
Yes, a two-time Kia MVP isn’t easily cloned. After Iguodala won Finals MVP honors in 2015, coincidentally by being elevated into the starting lineup in Game 4 of that series, he has become almost strictly a made-for-the-playoffs player. His numbers across the board have steadily dipped in the regular season, and the last two years he averaged 7.3 points and four rebounds.
Last summer, Iguodala was a free agent and the Warriors were faced with perhaps their riskiest if not biggest financial decision of this championship era. Should they give considerable money to a player at age 34, especially with the payroll already soaring well into luxury tax hell?
Durant did take less than his market value to give the Warriors some wiggle room, yet Iguodala demanded a three-year deal, and in almost any other situation, that many years tied up in an aging player would appear poisonous to a team.
Indeed, Iguodala had feelers from other teams, namely the Houston Rockets — Golden State’s biggest threat in the West. And so the Warriors caved, realizing that the possibility of Iguodala suiting up and possibly facing his old teammates in a key playoff series wouldn’t be ideal.
Asked if that would feel weird, he said, smiling: “Well, I do know how to play these guys and I see them all the time in practice. But yeah, that would be strange.”
Boasting a roster rich in talent with four All-Stars, the Warriors can afford to cover for Iguodala in the regular season as long as he breaks from that slumber when the playoffs begin. They gave him that third year and his $48 million for what he can do for them from April through June, not September through March.
“You try to be at your best around this time,” he said. “So you take care of yourself, pace yourself and be ready.”
With Kawhi Leonard missing from the Spurs (and perhaps for good in the series), the red alert for Iguodala might not flash until the next round or whenever the Warriors feel more threatened than they are now. Perhaps the West finals and against James Harden and the Rockets? That’s the most likely scenario. That’s where this appears to be heading.
Until then, Kerr will keep Iguodala in the starting lineup against the Spurs and get, the Warriors hope, much of what he supplied in the first two games.
“The biggest thing is not being afraid to fail,” Iguodala said. “You try to embrace whatever situation you’re put in. That’s what I try to do. Being a starter, well, it’s good to switch up at times. Sometimes you get complacent in that other role. Whatever they need from me, really, is fine.”
And that role is … point guard? Actually, Iguodala’s strange promotion has more to do with his defensive mindset than his playmaking. Anyway, it’s working and the Warriors are winning and they’re doing it without one of the greatest shooters of all time.
“We’re just doing what we can until he gets back,” said Thompson. “He’s a special player and a big part of what we do, that’s obvious.”
The clock on Curry’s rehabilitation is another week or two, which would coincide with the start of the second round. Well, at this rate, by Sunday night, Curry might be joined by his teammates, who could finish off the Spurs and buy themselves an extended rest.
This series isn’t over, although it looks and feels like it is. This working out well for the Warriors.
No Curry, no worry.
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