We are all familiar with the classical quartet of All-Stars: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant. With the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors were able to boast a starting lineup of five All-Stars, something that hasn’t been seen in the NBA since the 1974-75 Boston Celtics.
But if we subscribe to the belief that once you are selected to be an All-Star, you will always be considered an All-Star, then we are inclined to include another on the team: Andre Iguodala, who was selected for his first and only All-Star Game in 2012 while serving as the main option for the Philadelphia 76ers.
While Iguodala hasn’t been the main option for several years now — opting to be the ultimate sixth man and role player on a team poised to become one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the league — he has become an indispensable glue guy on both ends of the floor for the Warriors. While he doesn’t fall in the traditional and mainstream definition of what an All-Star is, he has displayed consistent spurts of All-Star level play for the Warriors that were crucial in several of their victories this season; Tuesday night against the Jazz was no different.
It was the first game of a back-to-back slate for the Warriors — a final parting gift from the scheduling overlords — before they could finally take one week off from competitive basketball.
Unlike last year, where the Warriors were reaching for the All-Star break like worn-out schoolchildren eagerly waiting for the final bell before spring break, they are on the verge of entering the week-long hiatus with the best stretch of their season so far. After their win against the Jazz, the Warriors are boasting a 16-1 record over their last 17 games.
Save for their lone loss against the 76ers, the Warriors’ toughest games among those 17 came against the Miami Heat — won by the late game heroics of Durant — and against the Jazz, who were initially successful in making the game into a slow, defensive battle.
Despite the pace and flow of the game favoring the Jazz, the Warriors were able to come out of the first half with a slight 3-point lead. The third quarter, however, was an altogether different story; a 40-point explosion by the Jazz allowed them to take control of the game with a 3-point lead of their own.
All of a sudden, the Warriors were placed on the back foot — but as all champions do, they turn up the sliders and increase the intensity when it is needed the most. In the Warriors’ case, they proceeded to flex on the Jazz by showing them what it was like to have multiple All-Stars on their team.
The Warriors begin the fourth quarter with their traditional second unit of Shaun Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, and Cousins. Thompson is considered the main offensive option in this lineup, with Cousins serving as the second option. Livingston, Iguodala, and Green all provide much needed wing defense and a collective basketball IQ that is perhaps second-to-none among bench units in the league.
Thompson, who has put much more emphasis in his ability to go one-on-one and use his improved handle to create shots on his own, starts off the fourth by scoring on a one-legged mid-range jumper in isolation against a favorable mismatch.
In this sequence, the Warriors look to get Thompson going by running a pin down action, but as soon as Thompson catches the ball, he is immediately doubled. Thompson passes out of the double by throwing the ball to Livingston, who then throws it out to Cousins. He drives inside and forces three defenders to collapse toward him. This leaves Green open under the rim; an excellent bounce pass by Cousins is all it takes for the defense’s effort to be in vain.
On the other end, Iguodala makes his presence on both ends of the floor felt. He closely guards Joe Ingles on the perimeter, wary of his reputation as a perimeter sharpshooter. His awareness serves him well, as a pass toward Ingles is deflected by Iguodala’s active hands. He proceeds to take control of the ball and races toward the rim for the dunk, reminding us all that there is still plenty of gas left in his 35-year-old tank.
Thompson tries to isolate again, but Ricky Rubio — a good perimeter defender himself — dissuades Thompson from doing so. Instead of succumbing to stagnation, the ball gets swung to the other side of the floor toward Iguodala, while Thompson curls around Green’s screen that manages to stop Rubio in his tracks. This leaves Thompson wide open for a three.
After the Warriors get a stop by letting Rubio brick a three, the ball finds its way into the hands of Green, who sees the overplay of Thompson in the corner. Green turns on the jets — a signal for Thompson to dive inside for a back door cut. Green’s pinpoint bounce pass — a well-timed gem of a dime — finds its way to the cutting Thompson, who finishes the play with a reverse up-and-under layup.
While Green isn’t going to the All-Star Game this year, he often reminds everyone of why he is still considered an All-Star caliber player, especially through his status as one of the best defenders in the league. His ability to quickly close out on shooters and make excellent contests is displayed here, when he blocks a three-point attempt by Jae Crowder.
Green has another excellent close out and contest on Crowder’s corner three, and the Jazz are stifled anew. On the other end, the Warriors place Cousins up top to act as a pivot; a dribble hand off allows Durant to receive the ball and use Cousins’ huge frame to his advantage. In his favored mid-range sanctuary, Durant buries the running one-legged jumper.
To further separate themselves from the Jazz, Cousins finally imposes his presence in the paint and on the boards by running toward the basket during a Durant three-point attempt. The shot misses, but Cousins takes advantage of the defense’s failure to box out. Coupled with Rudy Gobert trailing behind and not being in position, Cousins easily dunks the ball back in while getting fouled in the process.
When the Warriors go to Durant in the post to score, the Jazz immediately throw a double team at him. To compensate, the Warriors improvise by running an option from their “double punch” play, where a double drag screen flows into an off-ball pin down for Curry. There is no double drag screen on this sequence, but the Warriors have Curry run around Cousins’ solid screen to relieve pressure from Durant. Curry catches the ball, and his lightning quick release allows the Warriors to maintain their lead.
On the other end, Donovan Mitchell bails out the Warriors by pulling up for a three early in the shot clock, in front of a good contest by Durant. Curry then proceeds to show Mitchell how a pull-up three early in the clock should be done.
Meanwhile, the Jazz try to score through the natural flow of their motion offense. Mitchell cuts inside and gets the pass from Rubio, but Thompson sticks with Mitchell and funnels him toward Iguodala. The combined defensive suffocation from Thompson and Iguodala stops Mitchell in his tracks, and Curry gets the ball and pushes the pace in transition. He takes Rubio on and gets the step on him, leading to a drive and finish at the rim.
The Warriors are fond of pushing the pace in transition, even off of made baskets. When the Jazz score on a layup, Curry quickly passes the ball to Iguodala, who catches the Jazz transition defense with their pants down. They fail to see Thompson trailing toward the right wing, where he receives the pass from Iguodala and is left wide open to knock down the three.
To close things out for the Warriors, Durant and Green bury the final daggers into the heart of the Jazz. On offense, Durant is left to isolate against Joe Ingles — and in classic Slim Reaper fashion, Durant knocks down the pull up three, like he has done so many times in the past.
On the other end, Mitchell isolates against Curry and tries to score all by his lonesome, but Green rotates and absolutely erases Mitchell from the equation with a block. The Warriors — known throughout their five year run for their elite two-way play — secure the win through unstoppable offense and immovable defense.
With one more game left till they ride off into the sunset (temporarily), the Warriors are currently on a hot streak that is a welcome development going into the final stretch of the season. The league is looking more and more of a competitive bloodbath, and while the defending champions are still comfortably favored to win the title, the decreasing margin for error highlights the importance of being locked in and focused on playing the highest level of basketball possible.
In terms of individual performance, the Warriors’ All-Stars are rounding into form. Thompson, who started the season on the worst slump of his career so far, has “regressed” back to the mean. In 2019, Thompson is shooting 55.9 percent from the field and 50.7 percent from three-point range, and has been tearing up the offensive end of the floor as well as continuing to be one of the best defenders in the league.
Durant — the scoring machine who is capable of point production in all sorts of ways — has started to specialize as a mid-range operator. In two games versus the Heat and the Jazz, he has posted a 25-of-31 clip on two-point field goals, with a 16-of-19 clip from the mid-range. Durant has always been an elite mid-range shooter, but in the span of several games, he has firmly claimed the title of mid-range king from contenders such as DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Although he isn’t going to be an All-Star this season, Green is consistently showing why he is such an indispensable cog in the Warriors’ well-oiled machine. His playmaking — fueled by 14 assists against the Heat and 6 against the Jazz — continues to be impeccable. The “Draymond plan’” that the Jazz implemented against him during their previous meeting — which involves completely ignoring him and focusing their attention on the other players on the floor — was rendered mostly ineffective.
The Jazz are ignoring Draymond Green, just like the last time they played him. But he’s adjusted. Killing them with smart screens to free up other shooters. Set this first one up for Curry perfectly. pic.twitter.com/fHLOQkxff1— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 13, 2019
Cousins is still finding his way to 100 percent fitness and form. Against the Jazz, he struggled to score inside, finding himself being blocked or missing point blank shots that he would’ve easily made under normal circumstances. But he still made significant contributions, including his putback dunk down the stretch that helped the Warriors stretch their lead. He managed to finish with his second double-double of the season, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Curry has also struggled a bit in terms of shooting, but his ability to keep on playing and not letting his slumps affect his overall game continues to be an example of why he is the most important player on the team. Despite his struggles, he is still posting elite averages — 28.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.3 assists on a shooting split of .490/.447/.919, with a true shooting percentage of 66.2%.
And finally, Iguodala — the elder statesman of the team — is looking like the rejuvenated and refreshed version that has often been dormant till the dawn of the playoffs. Knocking down his jumpers at a consistency that punishes opponents for leaving him alone, Iguodala has transformed into a legitimate perimeter threat, at least for the time being. His defense is still as sharp, with his clean strips and lengthy frame giving opposing guards and wings a plethora of trouble.
Much is made of the Warriors having five All-Stars, but Iguodala’s status as an unsung hero to the wider NBA audience has perhaps blinded them to his status as the Warriors’ sixth All-Star. But credit may need to be given where it is due — for Iguodala is vital to the success of the Warriors’ quest for a third straight title.
Fifty-six down, 26 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.
*All statistics courtesy of NBA.com