As far as topics that have been addressed ad naseum this season, the defensive prowess of Andre Iguodala has been well chronicled.
But facts are facts there are very few basketball players on the planet who play defense as well as Iguodala and this alone just might earn him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team this summer for the London games. Sure, defense isnt glamorous and a lot of the nuance of it is lost on the casual fans of the game, yet when general managers and executives pick their teams, guys like Iguodala always seem to make the cut.
Again, facts are facts: when you were a kid growing up playing basketball, the measure of how well you played was largely attributed to your defense. Oh sure, friends and the fans talked about points and shooting, but the coaches who gave out the playing time all looked at the defense.
Nevertheless, in a season where his defense has stood out more so than any other during his career, Iguodala added another gem to the collection on Saturday night during the 95-90 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at the Wells Fargo Center (see game recap). Though the box score has a goose egg under the steals category next to his name, and All-Star Joe Johnson got 15 points though just two in the last quarter it hardly tells the full story.
For instance, during a sequence in the third quarter Iguodala deflected a pass to halt an easy basket and then broke up a 3-on-1 break by stripping the ball from point guard George Teague. He didnt get a steal, a rebound or a blocked shot during that series of plays, but the Sixers stopped the Hawks from extending the lead and in turn Iguodala fired up his teammates.
Meanwhile, Iguodalas reputation as the guy who puts the clamps on the oppositions leading scorer was enhanced against Johnson, who not only scored just two points in the fourth quarter, but also did not even get off a shot in the final 10 minutes of the game. Of Johnsons 15 points, nine of them came while Iguodala was on the bench and two others came when he banked in a contested, tip-your-cap 20-footer.
Johnson, of course, is just the latest All-Star victim to the Venus flytrap-like defense from Iguodala. Against the Knicks at the Garden on March 11, Carmelo Anthony shot 5 for 13 for 22 points against the Sixers, but was 0 for 6 after the first quarter. Then there was the game on Feb. 6 where Kobe Bryant scored 24 points in the first half, including 20 in the first 17 minutes of the game. But during the second half Bryant shot just 2 for 14, including 1 for 10 in the final quarter after coach Doug Collins switched defenses to put Iguodala on the three-time scoring champ.
He plays amazing defense against the top scorers every night, veteran Elton Brand said. We give him help, but hes on his own most of the time.
The list of players Iguodala has held in check during the season reads like a veritable whos who of NBA stars, though Saturdays effort against Johnson may have been the most impressive.
More impressive than blanketing Carmelo or Kobe? Well, considering that Iguodala missed a pair of games this week with chondromalacia in his knee, yes. Saturdays game was one of those where the Sixers season could have spiraled into the abyss had they not pulled through with a win, so when it came down to crunch time, Iguodala made sure the All-Star didnt score.
It was an impressive effort.
How about it, Andre?
It was OK. Ive just been playing against guys like that for eight years and theyre going to have some good nights, he said. I just understand the game and understand the flow and what theyre going to do and their tendencies. Just being a student of the game helps me when my body isnt at full strength. I can think my way through a game without breaking a sweat, so that helps sometimes, too.
When the Hawks took a six-point lead with 11:07 remaining in the fourth quarter on Johnsons 23-footer, Collins started to get worried. Johnson, he said, has a knack for making big shots in the final quarter and the stats bear that out, too. In fact, in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, Johnson was shooting 22 for 45 going into Saturdays game and had made 12 of 21 three-pointers.
I was worried because Joe Johnson is one of the best guys late in games and I was just worried about him making a big shot, Collins said.
However, its difficult to be a clutch shooter when the defender doesnt allow a shot to be taken.
Its tough to place a metric on defense, though. Sure, there is the defensive rating, which measures the points scored against a teamplayer per 100 possessions and there is also defensive win shares, which is a variation on the rating. Iguodala is third in the NBA in defensive win shares behind Dwight Howard and Josh Smith and fifth in defensive rating behind Howard, Brand, Kevin Garnett and Smith, but there is only so much the numbers can tell.
Instead, its just easier to ask the 13-year NBA veteran Brand if hes ever played alongside a player who can play defense like Iguodala.
Not like that. Not that tenacious, Brand said. I played with Ron Artest in AAU and hed maul somebody if they scored on him, but other than that I havent seen anyone play defense like Iguodala.
E-mail John R. Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org