NEW ORLEANS -- Steve Kerr’s decision to roll out a starting lineup with Andre Iguodala and the Warriors’ All-Stars on Sunday was neither epiphany nor revelation. It was studied by the coaching staff but pushed along by the observations and frustrations of Draymond Green.
That Green basically appealed for a team he could trust, and was convincing enough to persuade Kerr, illuminates Green’s importance to this team’s success.
With support from his fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Green campaigned for the move. Sure, he embraced the challenge of playing center against Pelicans star Anthony Davis. And, yes, Green also got into the ears of Curry and Durant, pleading with them to unleash the full power of their gifts. Green also knew Klay Thompson would sign off on such an adjustment.
Mostly, though, Green wanted to have the team’s most talented and reliable players on the court at the same time. He wanted to ride with those that could be trusted to communicate effectively and make smart decisions on the fly.
“Guys that have been there before,” Durant said. “And just have an IQ for the game.”
Durant mentioned no one by name, but those attributes are not particularly the forte of Nick Young, who started Games 1 and 2. Nor are they generally associated with JaVale McGee, who started Game 3. Kerr had turned to the two veterans looking for someone to provide a spark, and Young and McGee occasionally do that.
But after an ugly loss to New Orleans in Game 3 put increased urgency on Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinal, it was time, in Green’s mind, to stop futzing around with what might work and go with the surest option on the roster.
That’s Iguodala, one of the most cerebral players in the NBA. Who better to trust?
“He’s that steady force for us,” Green said. “And when he’s out there with that small lineup, we’ve got those three guys (Curry, Durant and Thompson) running around like crazy and sometimes me trying to squeeze the ball into the smallest gap possible, and he’s just there calming us down.
“And then what he brings on the defensive end, being able to switch and guard bigs. He can guard wings.”
When the Warriors re-signed Iguodala for three years at a total of $48 million, more than a few eyebrows lifted. Was that too much for someone about to turn 34 years old? What about his knees, which need already routine maintenance?
The Warriors were willing to live with the possibility of overpaying because, well, it was difficult to visualize championships without Iguodala. His presence comforts not only his teammates but also his head coach. Though some observers around the league feel Kerr gives Iguodala too much latitude, it’s an extension of the trust he has in the 14th-year veteran.
“He’s one of the most fundamentally sound players I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kerr said. “And when you combine that fundamental play with athleticism, that’s a pretty good combination. He reminds me a lot of (Chicago Bulls Hall of Famer and former teammate of Kerr) Scottie Pippen. He really does, in terms of defensive acumen and his ability to play a point forward role.
Iguodala’s personal stats in Game 4 didn’t shout, but they provided a hint of his broad impact. He totaled 6 points, seven rebounds, six assists -- with zero turnovers -- two steals and one block. He also vaporized Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans’ most dangerous outside shooter, holding him to 7 points on 1-of-7 shooting.
New Orleans averaged 31 points in the first quarter of Games 1 through 3. They totaled 22, on 28.6-percent shooting in Game 4. The starting lineup posted a defensive rating of 66.5. Filthy.
“They’ve been getting like 30-plus in the first quarter,” Iguodala told NBC Sports Bay Area. “And after Game 1, Draymond was like, ‘That’s too many.’ So we’ve been trying to control it. They’ve been creeping up there, but tonight was the first time we set the tone with it. The communication is really good with this group.”
Green is notoriously prickly about teammates missing assignments and not speaking up. Not everyone sees and feels the game as well as he does, according to assistant coach Ron Adams, but Igoudala is on a similar level.
“He’s all over the place and has an understanding that not many people have about the game of basketball,” Green said. “At times, and Steph and I talk about it a lot, we understand that we can get a little crazy, trying to make the spectacular play. Andre is the guy who we kind of get mad at because it looks open to us but it’s not open enough for Andre to make the pass.”
Put another way, Green, under some circumstances, trusts Iguodala more than he trusts himself or Curry.
When you feel that strongly about a teammate, you stand up for him. When your team needs a spark it can depend on, you ask for it. When a playoff series is in the balance and the coach feels the same way, the decision is easy.