Andre Iguodala’s clutch three personifies Warriors’ championship mettle

TORONTO — Andre Iguodala was the right man to leave open, but it was the wrong time of the game at the wrong time of year.

It didn’t matter that entering Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, he had missed his last 11 3-pointers and at times in the series opener looked allergic to the rim.

It didn’t matter because the calendar turned to June, and that left wing was the spot Robert Horry made famous with crowd-quieting yet inevitable threes that defied percentages and some logic.

Iguodala added to his personal playoff lore with a clinching triple in the face of frenzy, and the Golden State Warriors, a team that is loud in everything it’s accomplished over this half-decade, quietly notched a grinding 109-104 victory on the road in a hostile environment to tie the NBA Finals with the Toronto Raptors.

“He’s Big Shot Bob,” Draymond Green told Yahoo Sports, borrowing Horry’s well-earned nickname. “He loves the big moment. Since I've known him, he's always hit the big shots. Regular season, postseason. Tonight is no different.”

Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) shoots against the Toronto Raptors during the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) releases the 3-pointer that sealed the game Sunday night. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Warriors could put Iguodala in a cryogenic chamber from October to April, thaw him out in May to keep him ready for June, pay his full salary, and he’d still be worth every penny.

The nerves many feel Iguodala should have in those final seconds exist only in the pregame for him, but once the games matter, he’s on, and those championship Spidey senses start tingling — even more so when facing a new challenge.

The two-time defending champions weren’t in a dire situation but falling behind two games would’ve been unchartered territory in a journey that’s faced more adversity than anyone is willing to admit.

The Warriors have churned out some gritty, gutsy wins that have taken their toll through the years, and it could’ve very well caught up with them had their final five minutes resulted in disaster before Horry’s, err, Iguodala’s triple polished off one of the best Golden State wins of this era.

The last possession itself was a mark of championship smarts in the face of desperation, often teetering perilously close to the edge the Warriors — who led 106-94 with 5:39 left in the fourth — seem to thrive on. They didn’t call timeout after Danny Green’s triple pulled the Raptors to 106-104 and closer to an improbable comeback with 26.9 seconds left and the Scotiabank Arena pressing itself into delirium at the prospect of pressuring the Warriors into a collapse.

The Warriors waited to make sure the Raptors weren’t fouling, and whipped the ball around before Shaun Livingston turned into what Green called “Megatron” — former NFL receiver Calvin Johnson — by snaring a pass that was nearly intercepted by Kawhi Leonard, and there was Iguodala open, waiting, ready to go home and nurse his ailing leg injuries.

Instead of letting the Raptors foul him, he confidently unleashed the triple that resulted in Stephen Curry’s hands raising to the heavens and sending a few words to the Raptors bench on the way to the sideline.

No panic, but damn if it wasn’t championship pride that undoubtedly reveals itself at the right time during the right time of year.

The team that was once termed the “luckiest in the league” by LeBron James years ago in terms of health, now has a roster full of players either on the mend or trending downward. Klay Thompson kept the Warriors afloat early, but limped off with a left hamstring injury in the second half. Kevon Looney exited with a shoulder injury.

There’s also that Kevin Durant fellow, who hasn’t been in uniform in a month, and DeMarcus Cousins was playing his second game in some time following his quad injury, pressed into starting duty to provide necessary offense. Being hit with a screen that left him holding his head and looking for the license plate number of the Marc Gasol truck that hit him, Iguodala only seemed to laugh in the aftermath.

“I got my head knocked off, kind of woke me up a little bit,” Iguodala said. “Got a little edge after that. You got to win the game. It’s a mindset.”

The player who said, “I actually feel great,” was so mummified with ice bags after the game, his young daughter was asking him, “Why are you beat up?” in the tunnel following the win.

Draymond Green just smiled and winked, telling her, “I’m a little beat up. I took a few hits.” To which she responded: “Well, who hit you?”

It was the Raptors in the beginning, taking a double-digit lead and watching the Warriors take and miss so many open shots in the first half and making it appear like death was at dynasty’s door.

But when the empire decided to strike back, it did so with fury and old luster, even if fresh faces such as Quinn Cook performed with the swagger of a championship veteran. And it wasn’t Thompson’s 3-point barrages or Stephen Curry torturing the opponent with laser triples, but alley-oops at the rim to Andrew Bogut and Green doing the damage.

It was during that backbreaking 18-0 run in the third quarter that struck some fear into a country thirsty for entrance into the NBA’s elite, and reminded everyone watching that these championships aren’t built on flash but on the backs of grimy players all too willing to make things ugly to bring about a gorgeous result.

“It gets overlooked because our offense is beautiful,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “We got guys who can shoot the lights out, score with the best, better than anybody. We have playmakers. We changed the game of basketball. It'll always be the No. 1 thing people focus on. We know what makes us champions.”

The Warriors had to come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016, and got in the mud against the Memphis Grizzlies during their first title run in 2015. They essentially ended the haughty Houston Rockets’ drive for a title by winning the rare Game 7 on the road in 2018.

They’ve been tested, pushed and backed into a corner. It’s usually when they come out swinging with haymakers and body shots from all angles, even if they’re wounded, even if they’re mentally drained from all these nine-month seasons.

“All everyone sees is a lot of winning and it’s easy and it looks like we’re overpowering people,” Iguodala said. “[But] we’ve been impacted by injuries every year through the playoff stretch, someone’s gone down.”

Even in the face of their own fatigue and mortality, they kept so many eyes and hands on Leonard, the NBA’s premier robot who showed signs of short-circuiting. He scored 34 and delivered a beating, but took one of his own, unable to fully capitalize in the last six minutes when the Warriors gave a slight opening.

If the Warriors are tired, they’re gonna make sure you’re exhausted.

“I think overall we're pretty beat up,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “We're missing two of our top guys. We're beat up [more], Looney goes down. It's definitely something we'll have to grind through, grind it out to get this series. If there's any team that can do it, it's us.”

And at this point, betting against them is a risky proposition.

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