I’m not saying it’s a good thing that one of the top five basketball players in the world isn’t healthy enough to play in the Western Conference Finals, but without Kevin Durant (or DeMarcus Cousins, to a lesser extent), the Golden State Warriors lose a lot of the baggage they’ve picked up as the villainous juggernauts of the NBA. Instead, as they start a lineup against the Blazers that they literally could have run out back in 2015, thanks to the random return of Andrew Bogut, watching this team becomes almost nostalgic, returning the Warriors to that time when they were beautifully constructed newcomers instead of just the latest superteam that’s destined to win the Finals.
So in their 114-111 win over the Trail Blazers to take a 2-0 series lead on Thursday, Steph Curry led all scorers with 37 points, even though he was shaky from three, and Klay Thompson helped out with 24. But the biggest old-school Warriors moment came at the very end, when 35-year-old Andre Iguodala reemerged as their preeminent shutdown defender, who saves games by locking up superstars.
Iguodala played career-low minutes this season, and scored his fewest points per game. But in the playoffs he’s been called upon to do more, and even though through most of Game 2 he failed to make an impact (four points on six shots in 30 minutes), the last possession was all Iggy.
With the Blazers down three on the last play, Damian Lillard looked to find space for a three against Iguodala. Instead, the ex-Finals MVP got a hand on the ball during Lillard’s first move, and as the Blazers guard recovered to take a desperation shot, Iguodala hit the ball straight down for the steal and the win. It was entirely reminiscent of his defensive heroics in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals, only swap out Lillard for LeBron James.
Lillard, perhaps more used to guys like Paul George letting him do what he wants in the final seconds, was at least a little bit salty about the contact from Iguodala at the end:
“We knew we were going to go for the three, so I was just trying to get space to get a three up. I know it’s a tough position for the referees to be in to make a call at that point of the game. I tried to get a little bit of space the first time and he grabbed my arm and I lost the ball a little bit. I regained it and I was going to shoot it again.
“But he got his hand on the ball. For me, as the offensive player, I felt like it was contact. There was a lot of contact. But obviously, the ref is not going to decide the game or jump in at that point. You know, so they – good defensive play.”
But Iggy was pure joy afterwards, running immediately to the locker room with his hands out in front of him, preaching about their powers.
The Warriors are ... kind of likable again?