Andre Iguodala’s injury opens door for LeBron James and Cavaliers

Dan Feldman
NBC Sports

Andre Iguodala won 2015 NBA Finals MVP for holding LeBron James to 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game.

It’s not that Iguodala shut down LeBron. He obviously didn’t.

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But Iguodala limited LeBron just enough for the Warriors to beat the Cavaliers, and voters are extremely reluctant to name a losing player Finals MVP.

Will the Warriors have Iguodala for Golden State-Cleveland IV? More importantly, will they need him?

Iguodala missed the final four games of the Western Conference finals with a knee injury Steve Kerr initially dismissed as insignificant. Golden State admittedly clearly doesn’t have a great feel for this injury.

If Iguodala misses at least part of the series, that’d give these Finals a different makeup than the last three – and give the underdog Cavs hope.

LeBron has played most of his minutes with Iguodala on the floor each of the last three Finals. But LeBron also played enough without Iguodala to build a sample (65, 69 and 89 minutes).

In each of the last three Finals, the Cavaliers’ net rating (point difference per 100 possessions) has been excellent with LeBron on the floor and Iguodala off and bad-to-terrible with both on:

Golden State still has four other stars in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Green and Durant can defend LeBron.

But putting Green on LeBron would remove the Warriors’ best help defender from that role. Putting Durant on LeBron would sap Durant’s energy for offense.

Durant dominated last year’s Finals, but the Warriors also made it easier on him. Nobody helped more than Iguodala, who took the lead in guarding LeBron.

Losing Iguodala would also help Cleveland’s defense, as it’d put a lesser shooter – usually Kevon Looney or Shaun Livingston – on the floor with the Warriors’ big four. That’d give LeBron a matchup where he could barely guard his man and play the “free safety” role that makes him so dangerous. If LeBron is roaming into passing lanes and getting steals, not only would that generate stops, it’d start Cavs fastbreaks.

Golden State should still be favored, even if Iguodala misses the entire series. Again, see the Warriors’ four stars.

But if looking for a path to a Cavaliers upset, start with Iguodala being limited or out.

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