HOUSTON -- Though Andre Iguodala uses several phrases to describe it, such as a “chess game” or one of “cat and mouse,” his clash with James Harden undoubtedly is first among the matchups to dictate the Warriors-Rockets NBA playoff series' outcome.
Through three second-round games, it’s 2-1 Warriors because Iguodala won the first two battles, while Harden won Game 3 on Saturday.
Put a small asterisk next to that Houston win, though, because Harden’s dagger shot when he turned the corner on Iguodala in overtime came on a play that, upon official review, the Rockets star should have been whistled for charging into Draymond Green in the paint.
Still, Harden emerged victorious because he scored 41 points on 14-of-32 shooting (43.8 percent) -- with 28 of those points coming after halftime on 10-of-21 shooting (47.6 percent). He had just three turnovers in 45 minutes.
The Beard benefited from at least two factors. One, Houston’s burly Eric Gordon drew the Warriors’ attention in the first half by scoring 20 points while repeatedly making bullish drives to the rim. Heightened awareness of his penetration softened the defense and gave Harden some operating room after halftime.
Two, Harden didn’t waste as much time trying to force a switch that would leave someone other than Iguodala. This was acknowledged by both Harden and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni.
“We can’t worry about going at certain guys or picking on certain guys,” Harden said Sunday. “It drains the shot clock. So, if we can just push the pace and get stops and run and get our shots, that’s good enough.”
Dissatisfied with the results of the Harden-Iguodala matchup in Games 1 and 2, when Harden scored 64 points on but shot just 7 of 23 (30.4 percent) from deep and 18 of 47 (38.3 percent) overall, with 10 turnovers -- numbers that delighted the Warriors -- D’Antoni urged the reigning league MVP to be more assertive and not to waste time hunting for a switch.
“Yeah, we talked about it,” he said. “Nobody in the world can guard him, so you don’t have to make it easy. Just play. Just attack. It’s not always going to work out; they have great defenders. But when he’s in that mindset and he’s just attacking, it helps him and it helps everybody.”
So, now it’s up to Iguodala and the Warriors to see if, adjustments or not, they can contain Harden in Game 4.
“The biggest adjustment is always the emotional one, the fight, the competitive spirit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Sunday. “That's the first adjustment that we have to make. That's the adjustment they made [in Game 3].”
The Warriors aren’t necessarily looking for Iguodala to stop Harden. That’s a lot to ask of one man against the man who won the scoring title by averaging 36.1 points per game, the highest total since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 in 1986-87.
“It has to be a team effort,” Kerr said.
Iguodala, though, is the team leader in that effort.
“He made some really tough shots,” Iguodala said of Harden in Game 3. “Some shots where you pat him on the butt and you say, 'Hell of a shot.' "
“I felt like it was a little bit of cat and mouse. A guy like that, you can’t stop one-on-one. ... We just have to try to make it as hard as possible for him.”
Watch Harden’s numbers in Game 4. He'll be defended by Iguodala roughly 80 percent of the time. If The Beard is effective enough to lift his team, he and the Rockets could get the win. If not, Iguodala and the Warriors likely will go up three games to one.