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Golden State Warriors wing Andre Iguodala did not enter the 2015 NBA Finals as a favorite, or even much of a figure of consideration, for the series' MVP award. The 11-year vet did not start a single game prior to the Finals after moving to the bench to make way for Harrison Barnes this preseason and projected to impact the result primarily as a defender on LeBron James. The Vegas odds rated him as a 125-to-1 pick to bring home the trophy, essentially suggesting that he had no chance among titans like LeBron James and reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry.
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However, there was no doubt which Warrior was most deserving of the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award as Golden State closed out its first title in 40 years in Tuesday's Game 6 win at Quicken Loans Arena. Iguodala was the Warriors' most consistent player of the series, averaging 16.3 points (52.1 percent from the field, 40 percent from deep), 5.8 rebounds and four assists over 36.8 minutes per game while serving as Golden State's primary defender on James. Plus, Iguodala's entry into the starting lineup in Game 4 in place of All-Defensive Second Team honoree Andrew Bogut helped turn the series to the Warriors' favor. Golden State won all three games in which they went small, in large part because Iguodala and Draymond Green allowed them to push the tempo without sacrificing toughness and defensive pressure. He finished strong, too — his 25 points in Game 6 tied Curry for the team high.
While there's little doubt that LeBron was the most dominant player on either side over the course of the series, consistency and the Warriors' ability to close things out in six games carried the widely respected Iguodala to the greatest individual honor of his career. It was a fairly tight margin — 7-4 to Iguodala over James, with no others receiving votes — and that result fits the narrative of the series.
That's not to say that Iguodala's honor is any less surprising than those betting odds suggest. Iguodala had never come off the bench in an NBA game prior to this season but willfully sacrificed his spot in the starting lineup to accommodate the development of third-year wing Harrison Barnes. Iguodala still played a major role in the Warriors' franchise-best 67-win campaign, particularly as a very versatile member of the league's top defense, but he was clearly a role player throughout the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs.
That changed in this series, both because of the prominence of LeBron and Iguodala's own fine play. He was Golden State's best player in a challenging Game 1 win, stumbled offensively in Game 2, and played well enough in a highly frustrating Game 3 loss to convince the coaching staff that expanding his role would be the key to tying and then taking the series. That outlook proved correct — Iguodala averaged 39 minutes, 20.3 points, seven rebounds, four assists (with only one total turnover), and two steals in the Warriors' three series-ending wins. Though not known as much of a scorer at this point in his career, he made the Cavaliers pay for sloughing off him as a way of locking up more celebrated shooters like Curry and Klay Thompson.
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He was also essential to Golden State's championship simply because he occupied so much of LeBron James's time and energy. It's difficult to say that Iguodala locked up James when the self-described "best player in the world" kept the Cavs viable pretty much by himself, but he made LeBron work enough to sap his energy and allow the Warriors to take control of nearly every fourth quarter in the series. Golden State was content to wage a war of attrition with an overwhelming depth advantage, and Iguodala was key to pushing LeBron and the rest of the Cavs to their limits.
It seems likely that Iguodala's greatness is an outlier. The Warriors saw so much success this season that it's difficult to see them changing their primary rotation due to an individual honor won over six games, and Iguodala accepted his new role to an extent that indicates he won't demand a return to the starting lineup in 2016-17. For that matter, every playoff series demands different things of a team, and the requirements of beating the undermanned Cavaliers will not extend to the Warriors' other 28 opponents.
Nevertheless, Iguodala's excellence vs. Cleveland stands as a fine example of what made the Warriors such a force this postseason. Steve Kerr and his staff shifted the rotation to the needs of each series and opponent, with players taking on different assignments or minute totals depending on the Warriors' adjustments and level of desperation. Crucially, each player accepted those changes as sensible even when they did not lead to greater individual glory. Iguodala was a presence throughout, but he never mattered more than against the Cavaliers. He rose to the occasion with the best series of his life and now has the fancy hardware to show for it.
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