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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Iggy Does It: Andre Iguodala Wins Finals MVP as Golden State Claims First Title Since 1975

Usually, a player whose man nearly averages a triple double in the NBA Finals does not win the Finals MVP but the 2015 NBA Finals were unusual in many respects. Andre Iguodala, a 2012 All-Star who did not start a single regular season game for the 67-15 Golden State Warriors, won the 2015 NBA Finals MVP after Golden State defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-97 in game six to clinch a 4-2 series victory. Iguodala finished with 25 points (tied with Stephen Curry for team-high honors), five rebounds and five assists. Iguodala averaged 16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 4.0 apg for the series and he was the primary defender on LeBron James, who stuffed the box score en route to suffering his fourth defeat in six trips to the NBA Finals.

Iguodala's career arc is interesting and it illustrates what it takes to become an NBA champion. He is good enough to start for just about every team in the NBA. He is good enough to start for the Warriors, for that matter--but Iguodala understood that the Warriors would function best if he came off of the bench and he embraced that role, an unselfish and wise decision in a league where many players would rather be the number one option and never win a championship than sacrifice some of their statistics and glory in favor of the greater good. Manu Ginobili made a decision similar to Iguodala's and was rewarded with four championships. On the other hand, Stephon Marbury could have played his whole career alongside Kevin Garnett but Marbury did not want to be the second option--and, more recently, James Harden could have continued to be the sixth man for a powerful Oklahoma City team but he chose to seek more money and more glory. No one would expect LeBron James or Kevin Durant to take a back seat to anyone but if you are not one of the very best players in the NBA and you want to win a championship then it makes sense to put the team's needs before your desire to receive individual accolades.

Iguodala's Finals MVP award will surely generate some controversy. Curry, the 2015 regular season MVP, put up MVP caliber numbers in the Finals as well, leading the Warriors with 26.0 ppg while averaging 6.2 apg and 5.2 rpg. He poured in 37 points--including 17 in the fourth quarter--to lead Golden State to a 104-91 victory in game five but neither that signature moment nor his overall productivity were enough to move the media voters off of the small-ball storyline that gathered steam after Golden State Coach Steve Kerr benched starting center Andrew Bogut for game four and moved Iguodala into the starting five. Going small helped the Warriors open up the court and increase the tempo but the most important effect is that Kerr's move prompted Cleveland Coach David Blatt to counter with his own move: limiting starting center Timofey Mozgov to just nine minutes in game five after Mozgov had 28 points in game four. The Cavaliers were underdogs no matter what Blatt did but the rash decision to bench Mozgov hurt the team's chances to pull off the upset; when Cleveland took a 2-1 series lead, the Cavaliers' main weapons were LeBron James doing everything and Mozgov controlling the paint at both ends of the court. Playing Mozgov for 40 minutes per game the rest of the way in the Finals may not have been a winning strategy for Cleveland but limiting Mozgov's minutes in order to give playing time to James Jones and Mike Miller was definitely a losing strategy.

Klay Thompson, the other half of Golden State's All-Star backcourt duo known as the "Splash Brothers," had a quiet game six (5 points on 2-7 field goal shooting) but Draymond Green picked up the slack with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

LeBron James put up monster numbers in the series and probably received serious consideration for Finals MVP honors even in defeat. He averaged 35.8 ppg, 13.3 rpg and 8.8 apg and he had two triple doubles but he also shot just .398 from the field and .687 from the free throw line. James is the first player in NBA Finals history to lead both teams in total points, total rebounds and total assists--but pro basketball history aficionados know that in the 1976 ABA Finals, Julius Erving led both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots as his New York Nets defeated the star-studded Denver Nuggets to win the league's final championship. Erving shot .590 from the field while averaging 42.8 mpg during that series and no one--least of all Erving--spoke about Erving being fatigued. Ever since the infamous "Decision" fiasco, James has usually said the right things to the media but he may have taken a step back in the 2015 Finals as in one breath he called himself the "best player in the world" but he also complainied about being fatigued. Most basketball observers understand that James is indeed the best player but if James is going to make bold public declarations about himself then he opens himself up to questions such as "If you are the best player, why are you so much more tired than the other great players who are logging heavy minutes in this series and the other great players who logged heavy minutes in previous NBA Finals?" Games five and six were winnable for the Cavaliers down the stretch if he had been more productive in the fourth quarter.

J.R. Smith scored 19 points in 34 minutes in game six but many of those buckets came late in the fourth quarter when the Cavaliers cut the Golden State lead to four before the Warriors closed out the series by making some free throws.

Turnovers killed Cleveland in game six as much as anything else. The Cavaliers committed 16 turnovers that led to 25 Golden State points, wiping out Cleveland's huge advantages in rebounding (56-39) and free throws attempted (39-29).

How would this series have been different if Cleveland's injured stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love had been available? That question cannot be answered with certainty but Cleveland's management has some very interesting personnel decisions to make soon and those decisions will be based in no small part on their expectations for Irving and Love moving forward.

Today, though, the story is about Golden State. Steve Kerr took over an improving, good team and helped transform it into a great, championship team. Along the way, Stephen Curry emerged as an elite player, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green carved out nice complementary niches, former All-Stars Andre Iguodala and David Lee sublimated their egos to come off of the bench and Shaun Livingston's comeback from a devastating knee injury culminated in his becoming a solid contributor on the league's best team.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:00 AM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Wednesday, June 17, 2015 12:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James constantly making himself look bad with his ignorant comments. Didn't he say once that he was jealous of Durant getting so many shots and that if he was able to shoot that much that he would score 50 or 60? Is he really playing that much more minutes than any other star? Why does he and so many others give him so many excuses? He's only 30, it's not like he's old by nba standards. He cramped up in the finals last year and now couldn't finish games this finals. Curry actually looked fresh still at ends of games, and he only played 3.2mpg less than James, and didn't have a 2-week vacation in the middle of the season. James played great, but left a lot out there and was lollygagging way too much. He had enough help to win. He might not have any weaknesses, but there's several aspects to the game that aren't strengths for him; unlike Kobe who excelled in every aspect of the game.

Blatt got as much out of his team as he could with what he had to work with. Once GS decided to go gimmicky small, they won the last 3 games. Mozgov should've played more in game 5, but him playing low or high minutes didn't swing the outcomes of the last 3 games n favor of CLE.

Iggy may have deserved MVP over Curry, but Curry is still clearly GS best player. Iggy slowed James and kept him to horrible shooting each game. Maybe it was best for CLE to have James play so much iso to slow down the game more than anything else, but CLE's offense was very shoddy, which against a small lineup that GS was using mostly, is quite bad to say the least. Defense kept CLE in the series. It's one thing if James is shooting .398 and making his 3's and FTs, but he wasn't. At least he got his 3-pt pct. abover 20% for the playoffs. Interesting how poorly he shot this postseason, and we're mainly hearing how great he is. Would be a much different story from the media if it was Kobe. Why does he get tired so easily? I don't get that.

 
At Wednesday, June 17, 2015 2:33:00 PM, Anonymous Eric said...

Anonymous,

Your point about James being jealous is so true. I do believe he made these comments last season in the midst of Durant's MVP season. Lo and behold, James gets his opportunity and shots, but he could not convert and deliver.

David,

A lot of James's shots in yesterday's game were forced. James did not have that large of an impact, and I feel he was not as aggressive as he was in games 2 and 3. He settled too much for hero-ball jumpers and long 2s. He was not in the post or driving and kicking as usual. And his body language was not that great too. LeBron gets too much leeway from the media with the fatigue nonsense and lack of help excuse.

If he truly is the best player in the world, he should embrace all challenges as you have mentioned.

 
At Wednesday, June 17, 2015 2:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Is he really playing that much more minutes than any other star? Why does he and so many others give him so many excuses? He's only 30, it's not like he's old by nba standards. He cramped up in the finals last year and now couldn't finish games this finals


There has been much informed and uninformed speculation about the reasons why LeBron is such a physical freak. Nobody can know for sure what the truth is in his case, but conventional wisdom is that tiring easily is the price you pay for developing that kind of physique if you don't have all of it naturally. And that's why back in the days Wilt averaged 48.5 mpg over a whole season (granted, that was in a less physical league, which meant less effort expended on pushing other players, but on the other hand the effort required for running up and down the court, shooting enough to get average 50ppg and jumping up and down to grab 20+rpg was still the same) while LeBron is out of breath by the fourth quarter...

 
At Wednesday, June 17, 2015 3:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, I can't tell what you're saying exactly. Are you saying James has enhanced his physique by unnatural methods? He looks like a physical beast and seems to be in great shape, but his tiring issues seem odd. In fairness to him compared to Wilt though, Wilt retired at 36, James is 30. Wilt only played 116 more games for regular season/playoffs combined than James has so far, though Wilt has about a 12,000 total minutes lead. And the smaller player you are, the more running you will do most likely, so James does exert more energy than Wilt did and against bigger/more athletic players. James is a big player, but compared to Wilt, he's small. Wilt is very underrated and was very durable when he played, always playing high minutes. However, his scoring went down drastically as he got older. Agree about Wilt exerting lots of energy in his 50ppg season, but that can't be sustained long-term, even back then

Shouldering most of the offense like James in the postseason is more tiring, but is it really more tiring than what Curry had to do? Curry's running a lot more, was more engaged defensively, even guarding James sometimes. I never remember James guarding Curry or really pushing himself much defensively. And he wasn't always engaged offensively. He took it easy a little, probably because he was tired. Maybe if this was the first time we've seen this type of odd behavior from James, but it isn't. It's more of a trend. And I think everyone is making too much of a big deal about Iggy guarding James. Iggy did great, but CLE was running screens to get Iggy off of James, and GS obliged usually by switching, and then by rarely throwing strong double teams at James. If Kobe had smaller, less inferior defenders on him, especially with very few double teams, he would've eaten them alive. And can Mozgov get more touches? With a big man like that, why doesn't James pass to him more? No, that last comment was more of a joke, referring to Kobe not passing to Pau/Bynum, since they were supposedly the best big men in the game at the time. But the analogy is similar. Regardless if you think Mozgov should've played more or not, when he was in the game, he really should've seen the ball more, and then James can conserve more energy as well.

 
At Wednesday, June 17, 2015 10:04:00 PM, Anonymous A said...

David:

Had the Cavs had Love and Irving I would still pick GSW in a very close 7. I think with them in the lineup James wouldn't have been as aggressive as he would have without them especially not in the post as much. And GSW is just more versatile and well-coached. Magic Johnson pointed out that Klay Thompson didn't play up to the way he is capable of playing other than Game 2. I had the GSW in 6 coming into this series but I didn't think they would lose at home given the way they've dominated at home all season and I also expected the Cavs to protect at home other than Game 6.

Irving definitely gives them more offense and play making but I don't think he can sustain that consistent defensive effort and hustle against Curry over a 7 game series. I believe Curry would've scored more with Irving defending him as opposed to Delly.

I actually like Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup over Kevin Love. He brings that toughness and tenacity on the boards for 48 minutes. Jeff Van Gundy pointed out that his effort to crash the boards doesn't change over the course of the game. Love is obviously a good player who can rebound and shoot the 3, but I don't think he brings that same physicality and tenacity. Thompson made it so tough for Gasol and Noah to have an impact in the Chicago series, and those two are arguably the most versatile front court in the game. Gasol never had his way in the post against Thompson and Mozgov, he had to work around the high post and free throw line area to shoot outside jumpers and I have heard people said Gasol attracts the defensive attention in the post to free up Kobe Bryant during their title runs. Love is also not a rim protector like Thompson and I don't think he could've handled Draymond Green's intensity and effort as well as Thompson did. Had Love didn't get injured, Thompson probably wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to develop into the player that we saw throughout this playoffs.

In the first half of Game 6 James was again too passive, his body language just didn't show like he wanted to make an imprint on the game. Again, this could be attributed to fatigue or whatever reason but being labeled as "the best player in the world" he's gotta be more assertive. In the post game interviews he mentioned that he's not comfortable with playing in the post and taking this many shots and not being as efficient as he's accustomed to. That killer mentality I guess it's just not in his nature. His most killer game and also the greatest performance of his playoff career to me was Game 6 against Boston on the road down 3-2 in 2012. That game from the get go he was so focused and had that look in him that I have never seen before and it stacks up against any of Jordan and Bryant's in terms of killer instinct and imprint on the game. Game 7 against the Spurs would be a close second even though it had more significance being the deciding game for the championship, but it just wasn't as imposing and in the zone from start to finish like Game 6 in Boston. Plus the Spurs was mentally deflated after Game 6 and Game 7 was played in Miami.

 
At Wednesday, June 17, 2015 10:05:00 PM, Anonymous A said...

David:

This is the continuation from the previous post due to character limit.

I absolutely marvel at his ability to post all round staggering numbers whether he's shooting poorly or not. He assisted and scored 57.6 ppg the most in history and the first player to lead both teams in points, assists and rebounds. If you look simply at the numbers you could make a case that this was one of the top two or three greatest finals performance in history. I sort of understand the average fans who doesn't know or watch the game with an educated eye, and make the argument that he is the greatest of all time because his numbers across the board just "wows" you. He had 32/18/9 in Game 6. I don't how he does it. If you ask me to choose between James, Bryant on your team in the playoffs, the numbers would tell me to go with James but the eye test would be Bryant.

I actually think this Cavs team would beat the 08 Laker team that went to the finals against the Celtics. The second and third best players on that team Gasol and Odom wouldn't be able to match Mozgov and Thompson down low. Gasol didn't have the toughness in 08 and even the Gasol now he doesn't have the same toughness as Mozgov or Thompson. Bryant would obviously need to guard James as no one else on the that squad has the ability to and also shoulder the load offensively. But for the Cavs they have Shumpert as the primary defender and James/Smith/Marion can take their turns whereas Bryant had Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic as the wing defenders. It still amazes me how that team made it to the finals considering the talent that they had and being in the Western Conference. They beat the defending champions Spurs in 5 games in the Conference Finals and took that stacked Celtics team to 6 games. No one gave the same credit to Bryant for carrying that team to the finals to what James has been given this year. There is a stat that someone posted on twitter that the combined points and rebounds averages for Gasol and Bynum during the two championships was around the same as Mozgov and Thompson in points but fewer rebounds.

As for James' remark referring to himself as the "best player in the world", I thought he shouldn't have said that. Everyone in the world knows that and to say that after losing a game it's just...You let your game speak for itself. I don't think I have heard Magic, Bird, Jordan and all those past greats said they were the best in the world to the media for as confident as they were and as big of an ego that they had.

After Game 6 in the post game press conference he said that he hasn't seen any team making it to the finals "without another All-Star player". This is another not so wise comment to me. He's simply saying no one else has done what he did in the history for carrying this not so talented team to the finals. Just to remind him that Irving did play in the playoffs although not every game and he was only ruled out after Game 1, so he did make a contribution to the team making the finals. From what I remember the teams that did make it to the finals without another All-Star was the 1994 Houston Rocket team led by Hakeem Olajuwon. You could also make a case for the 2001 Sixers even though Mutombo was an All-Star that year he wasn't a scoring force or anything.

Like you said before in a previous post that this loss would not be a defining moment for his legacy. I personally wouldn't move him down or up in the list of the greatest players ever. But I do think he earned more respect from the world than ever before because of the circumstances that he was in and what he delivered. Most people would probably feel sorry for him and it also might put an asterisk mark on the GSW's title which I think it's unfair because injuries are a part of sports and a win is a win.

 
At Thursday, June 18, 2015 5:20:00 AM, Anonymous CR said...

I actually think Lebron is getting a little bit of a pass for his poor shooting. Yes, he had to carry a heavy load offensively, but many all-time greats have had to carry heavy loads.

Kobe Bryant's offensive load in the playoffs for the Lakers from 2005-2012 was nearly as much as Lebron's this year, yet each and every shot he takes in a game is scrutinized like the Zapruder film. And he still managed to shoot over 45% in most playoffs.

I also think Lebron often enjoys playing the martyr to shirk himself of a great player's responsibility to his team.

 
At Thursday, June 18, 2015 12:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

A:

I agree with you that LeBron's numbers are staggering and yet Bryant (in his prime) is the better choice based on the eye test. Somehow, Bryant managed to go 5-2 in the Finals and LeBron is just 2-4. Of course there are contextual issues regarding teammates, opponents and injuries but even if one just looks at the second part of Bryant's career he was 2-1 in the Finals with Gasol as his second best player and a team that had little real depth. Gasol had one All-Star selection and an 0-12 playoff record prior to joining forces with Bryant. The "stat gurus" would say that Bryant was inefficient and members of the media would say that Bryant was selfish and yet he has done a lot more winning than James.

During LeBron's first stint with the Cavs, Coach Mike Brown instilled the mentality "We are a no excuses team." LeBron spent a good portion of the 2015 Finals declaring how great he is and how terrible his teammates are. If Kobe had conducted himself in a similar fashion the media would have killed him.

 
At Thursday, June 18, 2015 2:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article as always David,

I give mad props for Lebron for doing all he can to stay competitive with the Golden State Warriors. However, from what I saw, tactically with their personnel they could only play 1 rebounding big for Lebron to be effective in scoring.

My question is, do you think the Cavs would've had a better chance if Lebron had a developed mid-range shooting game? I think all the problems with the clogged lanes due to having two bigs would be mitigated if Lebron had that extra dimension of having mid-range shot creation skills.

The Cavs lost an offensive post up option as well a defensive shot blocker when they couldn't play Mozgov together with Tristan Thompson.

 
At Thursday, June 18, 2015 6:26:00 PM, Anonymous A said...

Anonymous:

I do think LeBron would have had a better series if he had a developed mid-range game. He would've made the defense off balance by mixing the mid-range game with his post and driving game, which also opens up other scoring opportunities for his teammates. It also helps him conserve a lot more energy too because attacking the basket every time takes a lot of out you.

He didn't shoot as well this season compared to the last two or three years in Miami especially in the playoffs. It might be because he had more talent and offensive weapons in Miami, which helped spread the floor for him and made it easier for him to pick his spots.

 
At Friday, June 19, 2015 9:55:00 AM, Anonymous Calvin said...

I feel like Steph should've won the MVP. absolutely no knock on Iggy who had an incredible series but Golden State probably don't even win a game without Steph. Without Iggy, they maybe would've lost the series but they would've at least won 2 or 3 games.

 

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