OAKLAND, Calif. — Vegas had the line at Warriors by 17. So it was quite a surprise when, in Saturday’s second quarter, Golden State trailed by that exact figure. This wasn’t according to plan, but it was, at least, a thrilling 107-99 Warriors overtime victory over the struggling Brooklyn Nets.
Saying “eight-point win” belies how close Golden State was to losing. The Warriors needed a comeback and, later, they needed some luck. Above all, though, they needed Andre Iguodala. On a night when Stephen Curry was mortal, when Klay Thompson was out because of a back injury, the Warriors required brilliant play from the Finals MVP.
He delivered in multiple ways, subtly and dramatically. Interim coach Luke Walton put it well: “He plays his best when you need him to.” It certainly feels that way. When the Warriors starters struggle, the introduction of Iguodala into a lineup feels like a tacit plea to “fix it.” He’s more than just an excellent reserve, a “luxury,” as Walton calls him. His job is something between labor and management, as he’s constantly directing the bench unit, instructing his guys on how to play.
Iguodala can also hit a do-or-die shot, as Thunder fans, Hawks fans, and now Nets fans can attest. With the Warriors down three, and nine seconds to go in regulation, Iguodala got the ball beyond the arc, pump-faked and plunked in a salvation trey. According to Walton, Iguodala ran past him and reassured, “I got you, coach.” In the overtime period, the Warriors responded as ruthlessly and suddenly.
Of the shot, Iguodala said, “Obviously we’re looking for a guy who’s been doing it all for us this year and obviously the defense is keying in on him as well.” It was a situation where Draymond Green had the option to pass toward Curry after Iguodala set the screen. “Steph’s the first option, and they might help a little bit because I’m setting the screen so, I just got open and created some space and got a good shot up.”
That part should be noted. While Curry had a poor shooting night (34 points on 31 shots), the threat of Curry opened up Iguodala.
“Everybody has to be ready at any given moment with the guys that we have,” Iguodala said. “Whenever Steph has the ball or he’s in the game, the defense is live as far as helping off him and somebody can get open so you just have to be ready.” Some teams might force-feed it to their superstar in this situation, but the Warriors believe in letting everyone benefit from superstardom’s gravity.
Speaking of gravity, four Warriors were in Jarrett Jack‘s orbit on another key play, forcing him into an eight-second violation. Iguodala was the fulcrum of that effort, too, stepping up to hound a bad mistake out of an otherwise fine Jack performance. “We’ve got a lot of veteran guys on our team. So when it gets late in the game, we don’t panic,” Iguodala said of the trap.
This was a night for the mostly unsung defensive aces. Green had a triple-double and an awesome defensive second half (he and the Warriors made adjustments to Thaddeus Young‘s first-half offensive barrage). Center Andrew Bogut might have reclaimed his starting spot after a rugged defensive performance (18 rebounds, three blocks) against Brook Lopez. He salvaged near disaster when, with 0.5 seconds to play, he slyly nudged Lopez just enough to thwart a game-winner from the edge of the restricted area.
Bogut also, as he noted, got himself into a position where that disaster nearly struck. “We escaped that one,” Bogut said. “That’s my fault. We’ll look at the film on that, and hopefully learn from it.”
“We’ll look at the film on that, and hopefully learn from it” might as well be Golden State’s takeaway from Saturday. The Warriors nearly lost at home to a one-win team playing the tail end of a back-to-back set. They eschewed substitutions in some offense-for-defense situations. They turned the ball over at awful moments.
They’re also undefeated, permitted the occasional letdown and replete with smart players who can “learn from it.” On a night when the Warriors weren’t great, they illustrated that they’re more than Stephen Curry’s greatness.