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Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Iguodala stumbles in return to Philly

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala didn't get a chance to exhale much in his return to Philly, scoring 11 points.

PHILADELPHIA -- Andre Iguodala probably played out how his first official night as a Denver Nugget would go numerous times over the past few months, no doubt causing some unwanted tension.

It was not Iguodala's decision to go to Denver. The Philadelphia 76ers sent him there while he was playing for Team USA in London last summer. Then the only team he had played for in his career celebrated landing an All-Star center in Andrew Bynum, Iguodala feeling forgotten rather quickly.

So it wasn't totally fair to him that he had to return to Philly on opening night playing some sort of villain role. He oiled the slope a little with some cross comments about popular coach Doug Collins recently, saying he didn't enjoy his last two seasons under Collins and his limiting offensive ways. Even if they happened to be the best two seasons for the franchise since Allen Iverson was in his prime.

Iguodala released a statement thanking and praising the famously mercurial Philly fans on Wednesday morning, and the Sixers announced they planned to honor him with a video tribute during the first quarter. Nuggets coach George Karl delayed his huddle so Iguodala could watch some of it.

It featured his series-clinching free throws against the Chicago Bulls from last season's playoffs. That memory plus some other highlights prodded the fans to give Iguodala a standing ovation -- until two minutes later when Iguodala next touched the ball and they began booing him and went right on doing it the rest of the night.

That is bizarre but it is not a surprise; it is the nature of Philly fans to boo. It is also in the nature of a player in Iguodala's shoes to have a hard time dealing with the situation he found himself in on Halloween.

He pressed, he forced action and he thought too much. Because of it he didn't play all that well. Neither did the Nuggets, and the Sixers ended up with a 84-75 victory with fans strutting to the exits mumbling about having no regrets.

Iguodala had 11 harmless points, just four in the second half, on 5-of-13 shooting.

"The first thought is always 'destroy them,'" Iguodala said. "The human side, it's hard to block that out. I tried to block it out many times."

Iguodala, an All-Star with the Sixers last season, thought about this game more often than he wanted to admit. He did admit he thought about how he was going to handle the video presentation before the game, not exactly part of the everyday routine.

Iguodala complained in an interview recently that "you get that perception that you're just a defender, you're just an athlete, blah, blah, blah," Iguodala told CBS Sports. "I think that's what the perception was based on my last two years in Philly because I was the faciliator. They didn't want me to go out there and get 20-25 [per game] because when I got that, they said we couldn't win."

He also complained Collins didn't want him to shoot 3-pointers, even though he feels that he is a good outside shooter. His data point was his 39 percent shooting from 3-point range last season, a career high. Overall, though, the data supported Collins' preference.

Collins took the high road in his retort to Iguodala's comments, saying he enjoyed his two seasons with him. But Collins got a few licks in, too, pointing out Iguodala made the All-Defensive Team, the All-Star team and that he helped get Iguodala on Team USA by talking him up to close friends Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski back in 2010.

Despite the trade, Iguodala's role in Denver might not change much, either. The Nuggets are an up-tempo team that looks to win with depth and athleticism, spreading the scoring. That is not unlike the system Collins used the past two seasons. Iguodala, much as Collins used him, will be leaned on to be a defensive stopper.

In the preseason, Iguodala's offensive numbers were gruff, averaging 8.7 points on just 32 percent shooting in 30 minutes.

He came out Wednesday and nailed a jumper on the first play and later made a play he was known for in Philly: picking off a steal and finishing it with an athletic dunk. But he missed his next six jumpers and was 0-of-4 from 3-point range. When he fell and lost the ball on a drive to the basket late in the first half, the crowd mocked his misfortune.

His best work, as usual, was on defense where the Nuggets held the Sixers to 35 percent shooting and Evan Turner and Jason Richardson, Iguodala's primary assignments, combined to miss 14 of 20 shots.

"There's a degree of him searching for an identity," Karl admitted after the game. "I think he wanted to play great. Early in the game, he might've been trying too hard."

Iguodala and the Nuggets will be fine. They were dealt a tough hand this first week, dealing with the Iguodala return game and then playing in Miami this weekend. It doesn't help that Danilo Gallinari, their leading scorer in the preseason, was out with an injury. Most nights giving up just 84 points will mean a victory. Most still feel the Nuggets won in the deal, picking up a veteran known for his defense while lowering their salary commitments in the process.

But it was hard for Iguodala to see that after the game. He greeted the Sixers' assistant coaches but did not speak to Collins. It doesn't seem like a thawing is near.

When Sonny Hill, the Philly basketball legend, came to see Iguodala in the locker room, he seemed to welcome a hug.

"It was taxing," Iguodala said. "My last game was here and my first game was here."