Two trophies are handed out at the close of an NBA season. The Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy and the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award.
The player that stood with both trophies in his arms after the Warriors’ Game 6 2015 NBA Finals victory, was one who rode the pine all year.
Andre Iguodala, a starter in the NBA for 10 years, was asked, by Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, to come off the bench for Golden State at the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
The lineup move served many purposes. Iguodala, a former All-Star would lead the reserves, shore up the second unit, and allow Harrison Barnes to grow with the starters. The change also gave the 11-year veteran a chance to play limited minutes, rest and save his strength for the postseason.
Down 2-1 in the Finals, the Warriors needed to change something, they were in a bad place. That something came in the form of inserting Iguodala into the starting rotation, giving Golden State speed, space and movement that the Cavaliers were unable to match.
Draymond Green wasn’t surprised by Iguodala’s role or importance in the Finals. He said that Iguodala is always the person who comes up big when the Warriors are in a pinch:
“We all look to Andre when things are going bad…He was great the entire series. But he saved this season for us.”
In a 7-4 vote, from 11 selected media members, Iguodala became the first Finals MVP in NBA history to win the trophy after not starting in a single game during the regular season.
Kerr said it was Iguodala’s sacrifice that started a chain of events leading to the Warriors’ chance at an NBA crown:
“An All‑Star, an Olympian saying, okay, I’ll come off the bench. It set the tone for everything we were able to accomplish, so it feels like full circle to me that Andre received the award. Couldn’t have happened to a better person.”
The spotlight on Iguodala shone bright in large part because he was tasked with guarding the person who earned four of the Finals MVP votes, despite playing for the losing team — LeBron James.
Iguodala said it was the moment he’s been preparing for his entire NBA career:
“I’ve been preparing for the moment for 11 years now. I’ve seen him every year I’ve been in this league. LeBron doesn’t have any weaknesses, or he doesn’t have a glaring weakness. So you’ve got to pick up on the smaller things to try to make him uncomfortable.”
Known as a defensive specialist, Iguodala not only worked tirelessly against James, but also made huge contributions on the offensive end, including a team-high tying 25 points in the clinching Game 6 of the Finals.
Iguodala earned the Finals MVP award with averages of 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.33 steals in 37.0 minutes per game, and joins Rick Barry as the only Finals MVPs in Warriors franchise history.
He described guarding James and playing in the finals as physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Iguodala said he lost sleep because he would constantly think about the Mount Everest of a task in front of him.
But, for the guy on the team that is arguably the most self-critical, and most focused, who often forgets to celebrate achievements and great moments, Iguodala said he is finally soaking it all in:
“I’m not even thinking about anything. My mind’s just blank. Enjoying the moment. Just celebrate with my teammates. I think those are the things that you remember the most in this situation.”
Follow @SFBay and @NBASarah on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Golden State Warriors.