Warriors

While Iguodala disrupts shooters' rhythm, he searches deep for his own

iggy-ap.jpg
AP

While Iguodala disrupts shooters' rhythm, he searches deep for his own

OAKLAND -- He’s shooting 42.9 percent from the field, the lowest among the Warriors. His 22.7-percent shooting beyond the arc also is last on the team. His free-throw percentage, 63.6, is second lowest.

As much he would like to find some rhythm and consistency for his shot, Andre Iguodala is smart enough to know why he can’t be aggressive in his search.

He’s sharing the court with at least two, sometimes three, of the best shooters in NBA history.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have to get shots because their scoring represents the bricks upon which the Warriors’ offense is built. How does Iguodala, not a volume shooter by nature, get the in-game repetitions required to develop rhythm and gain confidence?

Iguodala takes one shot for every 5.4 minutes he’s on the court, the lowest attempt rate on the team. In his last 48 minutes, against Boston and Utah, he took three shots. Total. It’s hard to find your shot when you don’t have many opportunities to search -- or when you’re so exasperated that you become reluctant.

When the subject shooting repetitions, from the field or the free throw line, was addressed in a recent conversation, Iguodala nodded affirmatively.

“You have to just get a rhythm and confidence, too, because you know the ball is coming,” Iguodala said in a recent conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area. “You know you’re going to get to the line. Other times, you may not know. And then your head gets in your way. It’s just part of the game.”

Said teammate Omri Casspi, sitting nearby: “Ask anybody, man. The more you shoot, the better you shoot. Can’t get one free throw a game always expect to make it.”

When Iguodala isn’t sharing the court with Draymond Green, Curry, Durant and Thompson in the “Hamptons 5,” group, he’s with David West and Thompson as part of a second-unit group. Thompson is the primary scoring threat and West is having a fabulous season; his 60.2-percent field goal percentage is the best on the team.

Iguodala is at best, the third shooter. And just as his minutes vary, so do the circumstances. His role is to adjust his game to fit the needs of the team.

“The guys that can weather that best end up playing the longest and end up figuring it out,” Iguodala said. “Everybody is going to come to that time when they’re not going to be that particular guy. You’re going to have to come off the bench, or be the third or fourth option. Or you just quit. So (I) figure it out and try to weather it. Figure out how to make impact plays in other ways and staying ready.”

It’s accepted that Iguodala’s primary role is to agitate the offense and be a disruptor on defense. Pile up primary assists and secondary assists on one end, while using anticipation and active hands to take opposing offenses out of rhythm on the other.

His scoring is a bonus, and bonus scorers are low on the shot priority chain.

“Andre is such a big part of what we try to do, at both ends, that he’s valuable even if he’s not scoring,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

But there is definite benefit to Iguodala making shots insofar as it forces opponents to guard him, which creates more room for the team’s sharpshooters. An offense can operate only so well if a defense can disregard one of the players, and teams are visibly playoff off Iguodala.

Is Iguodala, who turned 34 last Sunday, a victim of age and mileage? That may be a factor, along with the assorted physical issues he takes onto the court. There are moments when he looks five years younger, and moments when he looks five years older.

Maybe it’s time to put Igoudala on a scheduled maintenance program, on which he would be rested at designated intervals, a strategy the Cavaliers have used for LeBron James and the Spurs employed over Tim Duncan’s final five seasons.

“If it comes to that, we would,” Kerr said. “But we haven’t had to think of doing that this year. But we did that last year. It was more of a routine rest. I don’t know how many games he missed (six), but I don’t remember him missing a lot from injury. But this is how it’s going to be.”

To determine player availability, Kerr consults with Iguodala as well as Chelsea Lane, the sports physiotherapist that facilitates the team’s physical performance and sports medicine. If Lane advises Kerr that a player should not play, that player sits, as was the case with Iguodala on Jan. 20 at Houston.

Iguodala, who in July signed a three-year contract worth $48 million, is lukewarm on the idea of regular rest.

“You want to keep what rhythm you have,” he said. “So I’m in the gym a lot, staying late, getting extra shots and sometimes I’m coming early in the morning. You want to get game pace, with a decent rhythm with your shot, because if you lose that, your confidence can waver a little bit. And you don’t want that happening in key moments late in the season.”

That’s the course the Warriors are trying to navigate. That’s the big picture. They want Iguodala healthy and whole for the postseason, when the mental elements of the game become more crucial, therefore adding to his value.

“The great thing with Andre is he’s such a great basketball player, and so smart, that his last few years are still going to be productive based on his brain,” Kerr said. “Our job is to keep his body as fresh as possible.”

That’s a challenging job, nearly as difficult as the task facing Iguodala.

He has to keep searching for a part of his game that will become increasingly important. He has to continue his search despite rarely being in position to look. He’s trying to regain confidence without benefit of the conditions that best create it.

And he has to do it all while continuing to contribute in the ways his teammates have grown accustomed to expect.

LeBron, Cavs force Game 7 in East Finals vs Celtics

goat.jpg
USATSI

LeBron, Cavs force Game 7 in East Finals vs Celtics

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James chose Boston as the place he'll play next.

Game 7 is on. And any talk about James' future is on hold.

James scored 46 points and preserved his reign atop the Eastern Conference for at least one more game as the Cleveland Cavaliers shook off losing All-Star Kevin Love with a head injury and beat Boston 109-99 on Friday night to force a decisive climax to this back-and-forth series.

James, playing in perhaps his final game for the Cavs in Cleveland, delivered another sensational performance - he added 11 rebounds and nine assists while playing all but two minutes - to avoid elimination and delay any decisions about where he'll continue his remarkable career next season.

"Greatness," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "Gave it his all. We needed that, especially with Kevin going down. He delivered. He carried us home as usual."

The king is not dead, and he still has a chance to make his eighth straight NBA Finals.

"It feels good just to be able to play for another game," James said. "Like I've always said, Game 7 is the best two words in sports. ... We should relish the opportunity and have fun with it."

This series, in which home court has meant everything, will have a fitting conclusion Sunday at TD Center, where the Celtics are 10-0 this postseason.

"We have one game to be able to compete for a championship, and what more could you ask for?" James said. "If I'd have told you at the beginning of the season we only needed one game to make the NBA Finals, we'd take it."

George Hill added 20 points, and Jeff Green 14 for the Cavs, who lost Love in the first quarter after he banged heads with Boston's Jayson Tatum.

Terry Rozier paced the Celtics with 28 points, and Jaylen Brown had 27.

The Celtics were still within seven in the final three minutes before James made consecutive 3-pointers, punctuating the second by pounding his chest with both fists and screaming along with 20,562 others.

Just for good measure, he added a three-point play and then was taken out of the game to a rousing ovation and chants of "Cavs in 7!"

"Just a lot of heart, a lot of grit, being resilient," James said.

Boston's improbable run through the postseason without injured stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will now take the Celtics back home, where they play with more intensity, togetherness and before fans hungry to see an 18th title banner raised to their arena's rafters.

Love went out with a head injury in the first quarter, forcing Lue to juggle his rotations and keep James on the floor longer than he wanted to. The three-time champion played the first 35 minutes without a break and then endured the final eight while nursing a sore lower leg.

Backed by a sea of towel-waving fans wearing white "Cleveland Whatever It Takes" T-shirts, James did just that to push the series to Boston, where he has had some of his biggest moments on the renowned parquet floor.

In 2014, he had 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in Game 6 for Miami, which went on to win Game 7 and the NBA title. He also scored 45 in a Game 7 loss for Cleveland in 2008, and now has a chance to boost his stunning resume further if he can get the Cavs to a fourth consecutive Finals.

James has also had some bitter memories in Boston. He lost Game 6 in the East semifinals in 2010 to the Celtics and was soon on his way to joining the Heat.

The game began ominously for the Cavs as Love was forced to leave following his violent collision with Tatum.

Love and Tatum were away from the ball and didn't see each other until it was too late. They banged heads and both immediately dropped to the floor with Love raising his left arm as if to signal he needed help.

As Love stayed down, the Cavs huddled around him. He was helped off and walked to the bench unsteadily before heading to the locker room for further treatment and evaluation.

The Cavs announced an hour later at halftime that Love wouldn't return. His status for Game 7 is uncertain.

The real possibility that James was playing his last game in Cleveland hung over the game - and this city - in the hours leading to tip-off. Everyone had an opinion on what James will do next and that discussion filled the sports talk radio airwaves, bars and barber shops.

The 33-year-old has said several times since coming home in 2014 that he wants to retire with the Cavaliers, but fans are uneasy because he can opt out of his $35.6 million contract this summer and test free agency.

And, of course, he left once before in 2010, bolting for Miami.

James has said he'll sit down with his family after the season ends to plot his next move, and he's already being courted in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York who can only dream about adding him to their rosters.

For now, though, he's only going to Boston.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Own a 37-0 record when leading a series 2-0. ... Dropped to 1-4 in Game 6s over the last four postseasons. ... Coach Brad Stevens praised James for his consistency, and ability to exceed expectations. "Nobody else has what he has on his shoulders playing the game," he said. "I think that the way in which he's done that and all of the years now that he's made The Finals and gone deep into the playoffs, it's unbelievable."

Cavaliers: Improved to 6-2 in elimination game since 2015. ... James' teams are 5-2 in Game 7s. ... This was the seventh 40-point game for James this postseason. Michael Jordan also had seven, one off Jerry West's record set in 1965. ... James passed Karl Malone (2,062) for sixth place on the career postseason rebounds list.

Warriors brief: How Chris Paul's injury changes the Western Conference Finals

Warriors brief: How Chris Paul's injury changes the Western Conference Finals

It is incredibly disappointing to see the news that Chris Paul will not be available to play in Game 6, after going down with a hamstring injury late in Game 5 

Obviously the human element of him being in pain is unfortunate, but the entertainment value and suspense of the series has taken a big hit with this injury. To write off the Rockets, who as you may know still own a 3-2 lead in the series, would be foolish. But the Rockets are significantly worse without Paul. Fans of the NBA want to see the very best play, and Warriors fans should want to see their team compete against the very best.

If Paul were to not play in Game 7 as well or be hampered by his injury and the Warriors were to move on to the NBA Finals, many would be left wondering "what if". However, the Warriors and their fans should also have a good counter that is being overlooked. If Iguodala were to have played in Game 4 and Game 5, would the series have even made it to Game 6?

The Warriors lost by three points and four points in the games respectively, and one of the main focal points of those losses were subpar bench play and turnovers. Iguodala led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio in 2016 and is known on the Warriors as one of the best at securing the basketball and not giving it up. If Iguodala were to have played, the starters would not have been as taxed, the thin bench wouldn't have been used as much, and of course the Warriors would have had one of their best defenders on the court for over 30 minutes.

The big question is, isn't it fair to assume that Iguodala at the very least would have been worth three or four extra points in a game? It's another big "what if", but it seems like the series will end full of them.

The iso-heavy offense the Rockets have been displaying this whole season and series is going to be put to the test in Game 6

Paul has averaged a usage rate of 25.4 percent this series, second on the Rockets to James Harden at 35.7 percent. Especially when Harden is out of the game, Paul is usually the player handling the ball and having a switched big man (or Steph Curry) forced to guard him. That usage will now have to be divided probably between Eric Gordon and even more James Harden. Gordon is not close to the ball handler that Paul is, and adding even more usage to Harden can be very taxing. Expect the Warriors to force Harden and Gordon to expend energy on the defensive end to wear their legs down even more on offense.

It is clear that the Rockets' offense is going to change dramatically without Paul, but the biggest hit to their strategy may come in their depth

As of now, the Rockets use primarily seven players in their rotation: Harden, Paul, Ariza, Gordon, Capela, Tucker, Green. Without Paul, they will have to turn to either Mbah a Moute, who cannot shoot due to a lingering injury, or Ryan Anderson, Nene, and Joe Johnson, all of whom can be exploited on defense. The Rockets have not been shooting well this entire series, mostly due to exceptional Warriors defense, so instead of relying on their historically good regular season offense, they have been riding their tough and overwhelming defense. This Paul loss not only removes one of their best on-ball defenders, but now forces the Rockets to include a player that will be a weakness on one or both sides of the ball.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Game 2 Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Game 3 Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Game 4 Rockets 95, Warriors 92
Game 5 Rockets 98, Warriors 94
Game 6 Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Game 7 Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm