Cavs' forward looks for redemption while last year's Finals MVP hopes ailing back holds up while defending LeBron James
POSTED: Jun 19, 2016 2:43 AM ET
Finals Media Availability: Kevin Love
Cavaliers' forward Kevin Love speaks with the media following Saturday's practice.
OAKLAND, Calif. — It's what they dream about, Game 7, and it starts long before they get here or even to the NBA. It's what springs from driveways and playgrounds, for them same as us. Invariably the score is close, time is short, the moment is now ... and the ball is in the hands of whoever's dream it happens to be.
There's a play-by-play man, too -- often it's Marv Albert, silently calling the action for an audience of one. "He catches the ball, dribbles, spins and shoots! The shot ... yessss! At the horn, and [Insert Dreamer's Name Here] wins it! It's over! The 2016 NBA champions are..."
That's how Game 7 goes when it's a dream. Real life? Often quite different.
Consider Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love, whose Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will vie Sunday night at Oracle Arena (8 p.m. ET, ABC) in what has become a one-game, winner-take-all end to the 2016 Finals.
The stakes are as high, maybe higher, than Iguodala, Love or any of those involved could have daydreamed on asphalt. The Warriors have a chance to cap their historic 73-9 regular season with a second consecutive championship -- or become the first Finals team to ever blow a 3-1 series lead. The Cavaliers are poised to deliver to sports-mad Cleveland its first major championship in 52 years -- or to give that city another reason to anguish and flinch, with LeBron James not getting any younger.
Problem is, neither Iguodala nor Love is positioned well to play the last 48 minutes of this season -- or perform some heroics in the dwindling final seconds of their imaginations -- the way each would prefer.
Iguodala is vital to his team's chance of winning but he isn't healthy. Love, in a cruel twist on last year's postseason, is healthy but not all that vital.
Athletes dream, reality laughs.
GameTime: Iguodala Injury Update
David Aldridge gives the latest update on Andre Iguodala's status for Game 7 on the NBA Finals.
Iguodala is facing one of the most grueling tasks in sports -- defending James -- while dealing with a sore back. It limited his effectiveness at both ends, stripping him of lift on his shots (forget about dunks) and on rebounds, causing him to wince at contact, slowing him in trying to stay in front of or chase down the Cavs' locomotive leader. At one point, Iguodala staggered to the Golden State bench as if in search of a recliner.
"You just try to will yourself to do it," Iguodala told reporters after the Warriors' workout Saturday, a session that was devoted mostly to physical treatment and rehab for him. "I felt in a bad position in Game 6, but saw a lot of things and still made a couple plays. A few things I couldn't quite do, but I felt like there was a way around it. So figuring it out, and the main thing is not using it as an excuse. I'm still trying to find a way."
Iguodala said the injury was more of a fluke, "a perfect storm" of sitting through the Warriors' long flight to Cleveland after Game 5, a hotel bed, the fatigue of a 100-plus game season and the workload he's had in the Finals cast thanklessly as coach Steve Kerr's "LeBron stopper" (or at least "slower"). He has received nonstop attention from the team's medical and training staff and predicted he would be fine Sunday.
"I'm glad we caught it early as opposed to happening in a Game 7," Iguodala said. "You just try to will yourself to do it."
This is the type of game you have to do whatever it takes. We have Dahntay Jones, Mo Williams, those guys came in last game and had big impacts, and they only played a couple minutes.
– Kevin Love on playing in Game 7
A year ago, Iguodala changed The Finals when Kerr swapped him into the starting lineup for center Andrew Bogut, going small in mid-series. He wound up as Finals MVP. Now he's just trying to stay on the floor long enough to block James from winning that award -- which the Cleveland star might snag anyway, win or lose, given his dominance.
Kerr said he wouldn't have Iguodala on any sort of minutes leash. "It's Game 7 and he's Andre Iguodala, so we know he'll be out there," the Golden State coach said.
Asked if he would keep Kerr and his staff advised of how he's feeling or just rely on them to monitor his effectiveness in the finale, Iguodala said: "Nah, I've pretty much got [it] myself. I've always been like that in life."
Teammate Draymond Green said it will be up to the other Warriors to pick up any slack from Iguodala's back, if it rears up again. James scored 41 with Iguodala ailing in Game 6 -- but then, James scored 41 in Game 5, too, before the back got bad.
"You kind of just feel the game out and go as it goes," Green said. "It's hard to always go and say, 'Oh, I've got to do this, I've got to do that.' I think you end up thinking too much anyway. Just feel the game out and play it as it goes."
Iguodala said he would spend the hours leading up to Game 7 receiving more treatment, catching up on the U.S. Open golf tournament and finally watching the last episode of "The Sopranos," something that had eluded him since it aired in 2007.
He will, no doubt, be hoping for a more satisfying outcome Sunday than that HBO mob series provided.
But then, so will Love. Regardless of his individual impact.
"You have to [put individual performance aside]," Love said. "This is the type of game you have to do whatever it takes. We have Dahntay Jones, Mo Williams, those guys came in last game and had big impacts, and they only played a couple minutes. ... So even if it's in short spurts or you play 30-, 40-plus minutes, you've got to go out there and do whatever it takes to get it done."
No one challenged Love on the Jones and Williams mentions, but c'mon, they're deep reserves who are employed as roster insurance. Love is one of Cleveland's Big Three and, frankly, the Cavaliers have looked better at times with him on the bench and Richard Jefferson -- another veteran, hired on the cheap -- on the court.
Film Room: Utilizing Love
In the Film Room, Sam Mitchell and Mike Fratello speak on the Cleveland's use of their All-Star forward Kevin Love in game 5 of The Finals.
After averaging 16.0 points and 9.9 rebounds with 35 double-doubles in the regular season -- and 17.3 points and 9.6 boards while making 44.6 percent of his 3-pointers in the first three rounds -- Love is a minor Finals contributor at 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. He has taken 16 3-pointers and made just five. He missed part of Game 2 and all of Game 3 after suffering a concussion, and he had to sit early in Game 6 after picking up three quick fouls.
Golden State's style of play, with its pace, smaller-sized lineup and defensive switching, has made Love look slower and less athletic than usual. It prompted questions of coach Tyronn Lue and James, too, heading into not just the Cavaliers' biggest game of the season but biggest in franchise history.
"He got in foul trouble the last game," Lue said. "I thought he was aggressive on the post-ups, on the switches, got to the free-throw line. But after he got the two early fouls, I just thought he could never get into a rhythm. And Kevin, being on the perimeter, guarding smaller guys, he's not going to have the same amount of rebounds that he normally has.
"So it's not about Kevin, it's about the team. And he's been great. He's been fine. He's going to have a big game for us tomorrow, I believe."
Love acknowledged that the Finals has been "definitely odd." None of the other players on either team has had more of a rollercoaster ride over 17 days, from his double-double in Game 1 to getting cracked in the head by Harrison Barnes' errant elbow in Game 2, from the NBA concussion protocol that sidelined him from Game 3 and had him sitting alone in dark rooms to having his starting role and general worth bandied about after Cleveland won that game.
He still has 48 minutes left to make his presence felt, something he would have loved a year ago when he missed The Finals completely due to shoulder surgery. But that championship series ended for Cleveland in six games, and this one still is on.
"The fact that we've been able to be great ... no matter who's been playing and force it to a Game 7 and being able to withstand their small ball lineup, you know, like I said, it doesn't matter as long as we win."
James echoed that in Love's defense.
"Kevin's name will be in the record books forever if we go out and take care of business," James said. "Doesn't matter what he shot, doesn't matter how many minutes he played, doesn't matter how many rebounds that you all thought he should have got, how many shots he should have [made], how aggressive you all thought he should have been. He'll be sitting home with a ring. So that's all that matters."
Not if Iguodala and his aching back have anything to say about it, though.
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