OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson sat on the floor in the middle of his teammates and pointed to his “2018 NBA FINALS” hat during a locker-room photo.
An important face was missing from the moment: Andre Iguodala.
In a postseason defined by uncertainty for the defending champions, Golden State could be without one of its top defenders as the Warriors chase a repeat title — taking on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a fourth straight NBA Finals matchup.
Iguodala’s status for Game 1 on Thursday night is a question as he recovers from a bone bruise in his left knee, which caused him to miss the final four games of the Western Conference finals against Houston. Cleveland’s Kevin Love is in concussion protocol, so he might not be ready, either.
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Coach Steve Kerr has said Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, will return when he can run without pain. The Warriors sure could use his presence against King James, who is making an eighth straight Finals appearance.
“We’re still without Andre, which is a big blow for us,” Kerr said before Monday’s Game 7 at Houston. “In a different way. He’s not a scorer for us as Chris (Paul) is for Houston, but a huge component. So you go through the playoffs and things happen, and you’ve got to be able to bounce back no matter what and keep going.”
Last month, Kerr became concerned his team’s defense wouldn’t return to its top form after Golden State struggled late in the regular season and even endured a particularly poor stretch in which the Warriors dropped seven of 10 games.
Yet here they are in a familiar spring spot as June approaches.
Once the buzzer sounded and the 101-92 Game 7 win over Houston was official, the Warriors could exhale. It hasn’t been pretty for much of these playoffs, a far cry from that remarkable, record-breaking 16-1 romp through last year’s postseason.
There is clearly some relief to be back where this All-Star group expected to be all along.
Stephen Curry kept the game ball tucked under his left arm long after Monday’s game, toddler daughter Ryan held in his right arm.
Kevin Durant hugged general manager Bob Myers, while always-animated Nick Young beamed wearing his Finals hat and “Champions of the West” T-shirt, then enjoyed hoisting the shiny trophy.
Draymond Green smooched his 1-year-old son, Draymond Jr.
Back home, fireworks went off in the East Bay as everyone anticipates another battle with King James.
“There’s a lot of just built-up anxiety, I guess, about this moment. When you walk off the court with a win and get this fancy hat, it’s a good feeling,” Curry said. “We had to work for it, and you’ve got to appreciate the moment. Somebody asked, ‘It’s four years in a row getting to The Finals, do you appreciate it?’ Yes, because it’s really hard. So all the smiles and embraces you have with your teammates, your coaches, it’s well deserved.”
Golden State struggled to hit shots for stretches. The stars went through funks and the Warriors had to play catch up time and again — including from double-digit deficits in the final two games to beat James Harden and the 65-win Rockets on their home court after settling for the second seed in the West.
James has willed his Cavs this far, saying, “I don’t know how I can compare it to other seasons because I can only think about this one in the present.”
“Definitely a different team but we know everything goes and stops with LeBron James with them,” Green said.
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