After stops with nine NBA teams, Shaun Livingston finally became a hero in the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Livingston scored 20 points, as many as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined, helping the Warriors beat Cleveland, 104-89, in the opener. Game 2 is Sunday, also at Oracle Arena.
The career comeback seems to be complete. Livingston sounds every bit like a 30-year-old veteran who’s already banked an NBA championship.
“I did a lot of reflection last year, being in this position for the first time in my career,” he said. “But being here the second time, it’s more about the details, the job, a little bit more settled in, more comfortable.”
For older fans, the memory many have of Livingston is from a horrific injury he suffered when he played for the Clippers.
The video of the play, a grainy transmission on YouTube, is hard to watch.
Livingston stole the ball in an eternally young game — 7-4, Charlotte over the Clippers — when he moved in for a layup attempt that changed his career.
His left knee buckled at a severe angle when he landed and he started screaming immediately. His knee was badly dislocated. Three of the four ligaments in his knee were shredded. He was 21. His career was in peril.
So Livingston bounced around. A ton.
The Miami Heat took a short-lived chance on him before he moved on to the Tulsa 66ers (of the Development League), Oklahoma City, Washington, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Washington (again), Cleveland, Brooklyn and now Golden State.
He never stuck anywhere until finding a spot with the Warriors, playing 78 games each of the last two seasons.
Livingston isn’t one of the Warriors’ top six or seven players. He was ninth on the team in regular-season scoring, plodding away at 6.3 points a game.
There’s no denying, however, his importance this week. He had a timeout-inducing dunk against Oklahoma City, symbolic of the Warriors’ comeback not only in Game 7 but from a 3-1 series deficit in the Western Conference finals.
His eight-for-10 accuracy against Cleveland in Game 1 was needed on a night the Warriors’ All-Star backcourt made eight of 27 shots.
LeBron James wasn’t too pleased, the Cavaliers forward surely feeling the pressure of trying to win Cleveland’s first NBA title.
It wasn’t a good omen to lose by 15 without Thompson and Curry making a dent, so James stated the obvious Friday — Golden State isn’t merely a two-man team.
“No other team in our league has the two best shooters in the league on the same team. And no other team in our league has that many playmakers,” James said. “I mean, people look at Steph and Klay, but when you add Draymond [Green] and Livingston and [Andre] Iguodala, it adds playmakers. So you can’t just key in on one guy. Those guys can all make a play for not only themselves, but for others.”
Livingston’s size bothered the Cavaliers again and again in Game 1. He took plenty of unchallenged jump shots near the free-throw line. It’s hard to get a hand in the face of a 6-foot-7 guard.
“Obviously with my injury I lost a lot of athleticism,” he said, adding he tried to “pick and choose my spots and just use my height to my advantage.”
As if the Cavaliers needed more things to fret.
They shot only 38% and their offense was stagnant in Game 1. Too many isolation plays went nowhere.
“I think we weren’t necessarily playing the basketball that we wanted to play on the offensive end,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said. “A lot of times we were force-feeding the post and found ourselves standing around.”
They better stop standing around on defense. Thompson and Curry will take advantage. And maybe that guy whose career was supposed to end back in 2007.