OAKLAND – Andre Iguodala’s presence in the starting lineup for Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals was a helpful reminder of the nuance that propelled the Golden State Warriors to a championship. History is already remembering the Cleveland Cavaliers’ chances to beat the eventual champions as more realistic than they were at the time. Not after the first three games of the 2015 NBA Finals, of course, but from that point forward.
LeBron James led his severely undermanned team to a 2-1 advantage over the Warriors, and the Cavaliers’ lone loss came in a series-opener that went to overtime. Golden State, to shock of the basketball world, came dangerously close to falling behind three games to none in the Finals – at which point it might have been too late for Steve Kerr’s lineup switch to change that series to the extent it actually did.
The circumstances surrounding Iguodala’s separate promotions against Cleveland and Oklahoma City are much different than they appear on the surface. In both cases, the Warriors were tasked with slowing one of the two best wing players in the world – and had their backs against the wall. But Iguodala’s viability defending a pair of former MVPs compared to that of his teammates is mostly where the similarities between those adjustments end.
The only justification behind Kerr playing the reigning Finals MVP from the jump of Game 7 was to contain Kevin Durant. This time last year, though? Iguodala’s insertion as a starter was as much about spacing the floor and producing tempo as defending James.
The Warriors dominated the Cavaliers once Kerr fully embraced small ball, winning three straight games to capture their first title since 1975 and set the tone for the greatest regular season ever. Those realities make it easy to believe Golden State should be heavy favorites in this highly-anticipated rematch, and perhaps rightfully so.
Neither team made any headlining changes to its roster; Channing Frye is probably the addition whose play will loom largest to this series’ outcome. The Warriors beat the Cavaliers on Christmas Day, then ran Ty Lue’s team out of the gym a few weeks later in Northeast Ohio. Golden State quite is better on both ends this June than they were last June, and the reborn Cavaliers’ initially pristine postseason work was tarnished by a pair of ugly losses to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals.