The Warriors were up 24 with less than eight minutes left in Game 3 when Andre Iguodala expertly defended James Harden on a drive to the basket. Iguodala locked up Harden as he went for a layup (i.e., tried to draw a foul), but their knees collided. Iguodala immediately grabbed at his left leg as the Warriors corralled the loose ball and bolted the other way.
From the fourth quarter of Game 3: After defending a James Harden drive and picking up a steal, Andre Iguodala comes up hobbling. He stayed in the backcourt on the Warriors' offensive possession, checked out of the game a minute later, and didn't return: pic.twitter.com/s5UvIV7MK4— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) May 21, 2018
What has been described as a leg contusion reportedly worsened overnight, and the news out of Warriors practice on Monday morning was that Iguodala would be doubtful to play in Tuesday’s Game 4. An X-ray taken on his leg “returned clean,” according to Yahoo Sports, and he is considered day-to-day. Sound the Kevon Looney alarm. RIP, the Hamptons Five (for at least a game). And maybe, just maybe, prepare for a longer series. The Rockets have a new sliver of hope.
Iguodala has become the face of players making an impact beyond box-score numbers. After a mediocre regular season in which he looked more washed than integral to the Dubs’ success, Iggy ramped it up in the playoffs and once again became a defensive force the Warriors could rely on. For reference, Golden State has been 13.6 points per 100 possessions better when Iguodala has been on the floor. Though Kevin Durant’s versatility has mitigated the need for Iguodala to play like a Finals MVP on that end every night, he is still an essential part of Golden State’s defense, which ranks first among all teams this postseason.
The Warriors have been in this situation before, as Iguodala missed a game and saw limited minutes in two others in last year’s conference finals against the Spurs. Golden State had no trouble without Iggy last year, dispatching the Spurs (who lost Kawhi to injury in Game 1) in four games, but stopping the Rockets’ high-powered offense is obviously a much taller task. The Warriors need all the versatile defenders they can get to stop a Houston team that’s played at its best with 6-foot-6 P.J. Tucker at center. Which means it may be Looney time for Golden State.
Looney has had quite the season. The former UCLA center dropped 30 pounds in the offseason but averaged less than 10 minutes a game in the first half of the season. In the second half, Looney’s production experienced an uptick alongside his minutes. He’s averaged 20.4 minutes a game in the playoffs, and he’s played well enough to surpass the rest of the Warriors’ centers in the rotation. Without Iguodala, Warriors coach Steve Kerr will be forced to start him.
Looney’s acquitted himself well this postseason, as he’s used his combination of length and quickness to pester both Harden and Chris Paul on the perimeter. He’s been a force at the rim, too. He tallied two blocks on Sunday, most notably one in which he ended Luc Mbah a Moute’s hopes at ever dunking again.
Curry’s third-quarter flurry is the turning point in the game, but man, Looney’s block was pretty big. pic.twitter.com/rNnHCFwBwh— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) May 21, 2018
The Warriors have been 12.6 points per 100 possessions better when Looney’s been on the floor during the playoffs—i.e., one point shy of their advantage when Iguodala has taken the floor. And if you take Iguodala out of the deadly Hamptons lineup and replace him with Looney, that grouping—which has played 39 minutes in these playoffs—has still posted an impressive 16.8 net rating. Iguodala’s minutes going to Looney won’t mean a huge drop-off, at least on paper. Where things will get interesting for Kerr and Co. is how it affects the rest of the rotation.
Can you say, “Nick Young, Western Conference finals difference-maker”? Will Quinn Cook be upgraded from garbage-time star? A lot more Shaun Livingston midrange jumpers? The answer is likely all of the above. Cook has played just over five minutes in each of the past two games; Young, meanwhile, has been erratic as per usual, but has earned more minutes than Cook because he’s draining the long ball (6-for-14 from 3 in this series). And Livingston has been a steady hand off the bench, shooting 52.9 percent from the field against Houston so far. All three will have to step up in Iguodala’s absence, and the rest of the Warriors’ starters (Looney included) will have to figure out how to contain the dangerous wing combinations the Rockets can throw out there while still finding cover for Steph Curry.
It’s a bit depressing that an injury is seemingly the only thing that can add some intrigue to a series that’s been hyped up since the start of the season. But that’s the case with the Warriors—they can only beat themselves (or, in this case, only one of their knees can beat them). Yet, that usually creeps up on them only when they coast. Iguodala’s absence might actually make them more engaged than they might’ve been otherwise after a dominant Game 3 performance.
“We play better when we’re under pressure,” Kerr said Monday.
This story was updated after publication to reflect new information reported by Yahoo Sports about an X-ray taken by Andre Iguodala.