Iggy Does It: Andre Iguodala Wins Finals MVP as Golden State Claims First Title Since 1975Usually, 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.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:00 AM