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Never forget the 2019 Warriors needed three timely Quinn Cook tres, Draymond Green at the apogee of his brilliance, the husk of Shaun Livingston, and a smirking, postmodern Andre Iguodala to hit a game-sealing 3-pointer to hold on in Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
Such was the climactic turn Sunday night in Toronto, where the Warriors tied the series 1-1, as Golden State’s big-name stars were saved by a supporting cast that’s been rightfully dragged for much of the season.
Steph Curry started the game in a fog, like someone slipped something in his pregame meal. It fit the online perception about the two-time MVP, with the festering belief he chokes on the Finals stage (never mind the three rings). The hero at the end for Golden State, Iguodala, alluded to this growing chorus that Curry’s superstar status is more illusory in the postseason, specifically on the biggest stage of all in June.
Iggy plays the game on and off the floor like he knows a secret. And it’s clear he’ll run rhetorical circles around reporters when pressed as to what that secret might be. When asked about what motivated him to come back from that brutal screen Marc Gasol leveled on him in the first half, he brought up Curry, who a couple of weeks ago he called the second-best player ever, behind Michael Jordan. “I like Steph,” Iggy said after the game. “He’s a good dude, good guy to be around. That’s really the only reason why I like playing basketball. That’s the only reason why I play.”
Strangely, Iggy affirmed a reporter’s suggestion it was Curry’s aforementioned iffy Finals legacy that motivated him. “Yeah. I’ve never seen it in a person, such a good person ever get some backlash or whatever from his peers because they’re so jealous of what he has, so just kind of sticking it to them. Whatever it takes to protect his legacy, I’m all for it.”
“I’m doing whatever it takes to protect his legacy.”— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) June 3, 2019
Iguodala goes into more detail about why he loves Steph Curry. pic.twitter.com/nPbDXlbDHD
Curry’s legacy includes three rings and a pair of MVP awards, but no Finals MVP. It’s that last part that sticks in the craw of Curry haters who think he’s unfairly venerated, given his sketchy postseason history. Ironically, it was Iggy himself who won in the Finals MVP in 2015, when Steph led the team in scoring and seemed poised to take it after claiming the first of his MVPs that regular season. Sunday looked like it was shaping up to be a Curry dud, providing way more fodder for the hating masses, when he appeared sick, barely scored in the first half, and couldn’t generate anything for his squad down the stretch. His running mate throughout this dynasty run was there when needed, wide open on the wing, calmly nailing the biggest shot of the game to make most of us forget about another less than scintillating Steph performance. Even if early on it looked like Iguodala might not be around for crunch time.
The bad vibes for Warriors started early AI was huddled on the floor following a Marc Gasol screen in the first half,. When he headed to the locker room, it seemed Golden State was on the verge of crumbling in Scotiabank Arena and would have to win both games in the Bay to even the series. Then it got worse when Klay Thompson—who kept the Warriors alive in the first half with his shooting—tweaked his left hamstring when landing awkwardly on a 3-point attempt. In that same second half, Kawhi Leonard, like he did later to Andrew Bogut and Green, lowered his shoulder into Kevon Looney for an and-one at the basket. His strength sent Looney sprawling. Golden State’s best big, at least in these playoffs, took the brunt of the fall on his shoulder, and we never saw him again after he came out. It was like President Obama—who strutted through the corridors flanked by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri in the pregame before watching the game next to smitten NBA commissioner Adam Silver—was an albatross for the two-time defending champions.
All that bad luck compounds the fact Kevin Durant has been out since midway through Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, and DeMarcus Cousins has been furiously convalescing to return in the midst of the Finals since rupturing his left quadriceps in the second game of the playoffs back in April. On Sunday night, the Warriors became Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian Harrison Bergeron, as seemingly every NBA Twitter prognostication about leveling the playing field came true.
But an 18-0 run to start the third quarter eviscerated Toronto’s five-point halftime lead. Green, Thompson, Cousins, Iguodala, the deadeye shooting of Cook, and a re-engaged Curry turned the tide of the series and reawakened all the insecurity that’s made the Raptors such loveable losers these last few years. Yet it almost all fell apart in very Raptors fashion at the end for the Warriors. The Warriors went scoreless down the stretch of the fourth quarter. After Bogut redirected a Curry lob through the basket to make it 106-94 Golden State with 5:39 left, the Dubs almost gave the game away.
The Raptors went on a 10-0 run, punctuated by a Danny Green 3-pointer to cut it to 106-104 with 26.9 seconds left. Enter Iguodala, NBA nihilist, but nothing like the castration-threatening sort who pass out drunk in Mr. Lebowski’s pool. Iggy was once an all-star in Philadelphia, where his basketball erudition fit poorly with the alpha status he inherited from Allen Iverson. After a trade, he suffered a surprising first-round playoff loss to the Warriors while wearing a Nuggets uniform. But he saw the light and promptly forced his way to the Bay—pulling a KD long before that came to mean “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” The move would see Iguodala reach his full potential as a mentor, rabble-rouser, defensive stopper, on-court handyman, zen-like settler of nerves, and 2015 Finals MVP. It was that Iggy incarnation that calmly knocked down a three on the left wing with the Warriors up two and only 5.9 seconds left.
ANDRE 🔒 pic.twitter.com/WqoMHfEPsX— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 3, 2019
If Iggy misses it, the use of the goat emoji on NBA Twitter might have an altogether different meaning. Despite the stakes and the Sam Cassell moxy it required to take and hit that shot, afterwards, Iggy didn’t even celebrate. He just pointed to his buddy Livingston, who grew up playing against each other in Illinois). “That’s my guy,” he said after the game. “We’ve known each other for 24 years.”
There was no celebratory pointing for the Raptors. And it’s clear from rewatching the chaotic possession that ended in the Iggy three that coach Nick Nurse wanted his guys to foul Green or Livingston—both of whom have issues at the charity stripe. Instead, Livingston smartly came back to catch Steph’s soft pass to him in the middle of the floor, avoiding the interception by Kawhi’s klaws, and found Iggy alone on the wing.
They never would have been in that position were it not for Klay’s shooting in the first half, Curry’s mini-resurgence to end the second quarter, and Cousins’ central role in the game as a surprise starter at center—Boogie would finish with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and six dimes in a winded 27 minutes. However, Cousins’s comeback from his heart-wrenching injury in the Clippers series couldn’t overshadow yet another marvelous performance by Draymond Green, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and nine dimes.
😤 @Money23Green (17 PTS, 10 REB, 9 AST) does it all as the @warriors (1-1) win Game 2 of the #NBAFinals presented by @YouTubeTV! #StrengthInNumbers— NBA (@NBA) June 3, 2019
Game 3: Wednesday (6/5), 9:00pm/et, ABC & Sportsnet pic.twitter.com/CliG4TDTGA
Green also performed his usual all-world defense on Leonard down the stretch when the Warriors were tossing bricks.
Draymond Green pic.twitter.com/eDAzLGNdDn— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) June 3, 2019
The Warriors keep sticking it to an NBA community simultaneously awed and annoyed by their dominance, despite the conspicuous drop-off in talent due to injury. While Steph, Klay and Draymond all had a huge impact on Game 2, it was Cousins, Cook (nine huge points in 21 minutes), Bogut, Livingston, and most especially the grizzled vet Iguodala who sealed it.