Pre-game update: Andre Iguodala ruled out for Game 4
Major loss for Golden State in Game 4: Andre Iguodala is out.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 22, 2018
The Golden State Warriors looked like they might be off to the races after an utterly dominant Game 3 win in which superstar point guard Stephen Curry got off the schneid in a big way. But their ride to a fourth straight NBA Finals might have hit a significant speed bump late in Sunday’s win. The Warriors listed Andre Iguodala as questionable for Tuesday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets with a “left lateral leg contusion” before ruling him out shortly before tip-off.
Iguodala and Harden go knee-to-knee
Iguodala appeared to injure his left leg with just under eight minutes to go in Game 3, with the Warriors up by 24 points after Curry’s third-quarter explosion. While guarding James Harden on a drive to the basket, Iguodala hemmed Harden up at the foul line, leading the likely 2017-18 Most Valuable Player to lurch forward and knock his knee into the side of Iguodala’s left knee as he lost control of the ball:
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
Iguodala immediately came up hobbling, holding his left leg. He remained in the backcourt while Golden State attacked in transition, and didn’t get back into a play that ended with Klay Thompson hitting a 3-pointer off Kevin Durant’s offensive rebound of a missed dunk by Draymond Green. Iguodala stayed in the game for the next couple of trips, but checked out at the 6:49 mark with the Warriors up 29, and wouldn’t return. He finished with 10 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block in 26 1/2 turnover-free minutes.
After the game, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters he thought Iguodala’s knee was fine after the knock. Evidently, though, the contusion worsened overnight, leading Golden State to keep Iguodala out of Monday’s practice, and list him as doubtful for Game 4.
The outlook improved later Monday, as Yahoo Sports NBA insider Shams Charania reported that an X-ray on Iguodala’s left leg had come back clean, and that the veteran was expected to be considered day-to-day moving forward. The Warriors essentially confirmed the report on Tuesday, upgrading Iguodala to questionable for Game 4.
The impact of Andre Iguodala’s absence
With Iguodala out, Kerr will have to shuffle the Warriors’ lineups. The 34-year-old veteran has started 12 of Golden State’s 13 games this postseason, first as a de facto point guard while Curry was still working his way back from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and then as a two-way perimeter presence who helps activate the “Hamptons Five” small-ball lineup — Green at center, Durant at power forward, Iguodala at small forward, Thompson and Curry in the backcourt — that has proven to be one of the league’s most dominant units over the past two years. (The Rockets, however, have fared well against that lineup, which has outscored Houston by only three points over 56 minutes in this series.)
Iguodala also served as Harden’s primary defender for the bulk of Game 3, helping limit Harden to 20 points on 7-for-16 shooting in 33 minutes. With him unavailable, Thompson and Durant will likely have to take a larger share of the responsibility for limiting Houston’s best player, keeping him from getting free in much the same way Curry did in Game 4 to send the series back to Texas knotted up at two games apiece.
His absence will require Kerr to dig deeper into his bench than he’s seemed comfortable doing for most of this series, given the makeup of a roster that features six centers, an awkward fit against guard- and wing-heavy Houston. Damian Jones has yet to see the light of day in the conference finals, and last year’s three-headed center rotation — Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee — has logged a total of 21 minutes in three games, as Kerr has tightened his rotation to better match up with Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets.
How the Warriors might match up without Iguodala
Kerr will likely lean harder on third-year center Kevon Looney, the lone traditional Golden State big with the athleticism to hold up defensively when switched onto the likes of Harden and Chris Paul. The Warriors are plus-13 in 21 minutes in the conference finals when Looney has shared the floor with Green, Durant, Curry and Thompson.
With wing depth at a minimum, he could also look to extend the minutes of veteran wing Nick Young (already averaging 17 a game in this series, right around his season average) and perhaps see if reserve guard Quinn Cook, who shined in 18 starts as Curry’s injury replacement during the regular season but has logged just 10 minutes of floor time against the Rockets, can hold up defensively against Houston’s iso-hunting pressure. Or, if he’d rather not overexpose Young or tempt the hand of fate with the smaller Cook, Kerr could give rookie big man Jordan Bell — active, athletic, more effectively switchable on defense, a plus-13 in 10 minutes in Game 3 — another crack at more significant minutes while keeping the rest of his rotation intact.
With Curry back in form, Durant around to score eight points a quarter forever, Thompson always two makes away from a monster quarter of his own and Green capable of wrecking offensive game plans all by his lonesome, the Warriors could absolutely take care of business even without Iguodala’s services. With Golden State holding a 2-1 lead, it’s not surprising to see Kerr decide discretion is the better part of valor.
Even so, Golden State’s best self emerges most frequently when Iguodala’s there to disrupt opponents and lend a steady hand on offense. As long as he’s not available, the Rockets’ chances of evening up the series figure to improve quite a bit.
More NBA coverage:
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Jeff Passan: The story behind (maybe) the fastest pitch in MLB history
• Eric Adelson: With lies exposed, everyone loses in 49ers star’s case
• Shams Charania: How Steph Curry became Houston’s worst nightmare
• Terez Paylor: It’s a long road back to the NFL for Manziel