(Reuters) - The NBA Finals might have been billed as a showdown between the game’s top two players, Stephen Curry and LeBron James, but sneaky Golden State reserve Andre Iguodala is stealing both headlines and possessions, not for the first time in the championship series.
Iguodala took home one of the more unlikely NBA Finals MVP awards in 2015 for his smothering defense on LeBron James and burst of energy after being inserted into the starting lineup midway through the series.
One year later, the Warriors veteran is up to his old tricks in a title rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As sharpshooters Curry and Klay Thompson fell ice cold in Game One on Thursday, Iguodala helped lead a Golden State bench that outscored Cleveland’s 45-10 en route to an opening victory.
Iguodala finished with a versatile stat line of 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists, one blocked shot and one steal. On two key plays, he stripped the ball away from James and Kyrie Irving to start a Warriors’ fast break.
“He’s great at doing that, for sure,” James told reporters. “(I) just got to do a better job of protecting the ball.”
Many offensive players have tried unsuccessfully against Iguodala, who helped snatch the Western Conference Finals for Golden State when he was put into the starting lineup for the Game Seven decider win over Oklahoma City.
“(He guarded) Kevin Durant last series, LeBron this series,” said Warriors guard Shaun Livingston. “He’s our most valuable piece on the team, with Steph and Draymond (Green).”
Iguodala, 32, has been called “the adult in the room” by Golden State coach Steve Kerr, and he kept his typical cool in the opener when Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova struck him in the groin while committing a foul.
“You've got guys who've got to get a little dirty, got to be a little physical, to make a life and to feed their family, so I can only respect that,” Iguodala said on Saturday.
“For me, it's just keeping my composure and continue to try to do things for my team to help us win.” The Cavaliers are searching for their own spark for Sunday’s Game Two, as they try to avoid falling behind in the series 2-0.
Coach Tyron Lue wants more speed from his offense.
“I told LeBron I need him to play faster,” Lue said. “I need him to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster.”
The Cavs managed just 89 points in Game One and were often deliberate as they tried to attack Golden State with post-ups in the paint.
At times they appeared more like last year’s injury-depleted team, which was forced to try to slow the pace against the Warriors, rather than one now loaded with a healthy Irving and Kevin Love.
“It's a fine line,” James said. “I think when you keep the ball on one side for too long and you're pounding and pounding and pounding, then that can - too much of that won't result in good basketball.
“I don’t think we’re that far off.”
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both)