The Cavs Have a Shaun Livingston Problem

He’s done this to them before. He’s done this on a big stage. He’s done this when everyone was watching. He’s done this when Steph Curry was on the bench. He’s done this when the Warriors offense was in neutral and they needed something. It wasn’t Steph Curry the Warriors needed. It wasn’t Klay Thompson. The Warriors needed Shaun Livingston.

They needed him on December 25th when the Dubs had their rematch against the Cavs. And the Warriors needed Shaun Livingston last night.

For a little bit of perspective on why Shaun Livingston matters consider this. When Jordan’s Bulls were reeling off titles, John Paxson and Steve Kerr had big moments. When Kobe and Shaq were reeling off titles, Robert Horry and Devean George drained epic threes. When LeBron and Wade made South Beach ecstatic, Ray Allen and Mike Miller changed the series.

We make such a big deal about stars and superstars and the Splash Brothers and if Kevin Love is going to show up. But bench players earn their money in the Finals. They have at least two games in the Finals in which they matter as much as their more talked about and romanced over hyper-talented teammates. Finally, they get their moment.

The Shaun Livingston irony is that he is the anti-Splash. He doesn’t take threes. He’s old school dribble, drive, pull-up. He feasts off of mid-range shots. He drives in the lane and finishes at the rim. He is tall enough to shoot over his opponent. He is long enough to finish at the rim and through contact. He is mentally tough enough, he has been to hell and back, to withstand in game adversity. He is not Draymond Green out there. He’s calm and cool, the prototypical Steph Curry back up.

It was always supposed to be like this for Shaun Livingston. And yet, it wasn’t.

Shaun Livingston was a number four pick, a 6-8 point out of Illinois drafted by the Clippers who shattered his knee in such a gruesome fashion that everyone who was at Staples that night still remembers his screams. He was never going to ever play again, that was the grim prognosis. He was never going to make an NBA impact, everyone agreed. He was never going to be a force on a NBA champion team; that was the no-brainer wisdom.

Shaun Livingston had to relearn NBA actions, robbed of his bread and butter insane athleticism, and it was purely because of fate. The once projected ten year starter and projected ten year perennial All-Star is only capable of playing 25 minutes a night, max. But quality over quantity matters.

What Livingston does in small doses is score over smaller guards, use his length to defend, dribble and move as the Warriors maintain their offensive schemes. But when he is shooting 8-10 and has a playoff career high of 20 points, no one is beating the Warriors.

In their Christmas game against these same Cavs, Shaun Livingston once again made the Cavs pay. He was 8-9, 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists. And yet, no scheming for Livingston some six months later. He did whatever he wanted to do.

In game one of the NBA Finals, Livingston was the Warriors leading scorer with 20 points. He added 3 rebounds, 4 assists. He played two minutes less than he played on Christmas Day. He was responsible for nearly half of the Warriors bench points, and he was the sole reason why the Warriors went on their epic run when Steph went to the bench.

LeBron James gave him the game ball. The Warriors gave him hugs and congratulations but it was nothing over the top. Livingston did his job: get on the floor and play your game. In a way that seems odd,  Livingston is just as important as Curry. It’s a different level of impact. Curry leaves. Livingston enters. But when Livingston is asserting his will over opponents it’s a wrap. Game over.

He’s done it to the Cavs before. He’ll do it again. The Finals are about matchups. Richard Jefferson and Matthew Dellavedova or whoever else Ty Lue throws out there are blood in Shaun Livingston’s shark waters. Besides, the Warriors only need Livingston to win a game once. The rest of the time his job is keeping the bench in a good flow so the starters can rest without burdens.

One more Cavs headache as they try to bounce back: Shaun Livingston.


photo via llananba