June 04, 2016

Your eyes do not deceive you

I've spent a good part of the past two days enjoying the stellar performance of Shaun Livingston in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.  Livingston's story is now well-known, but it's worth repeating, as Michael Weinreb does in Rolling Stone:
Here was Curry, putting up an airball from the corner on a 3-point attempt, and here was Thompson, bricking the pull-up 3's he usually nails with reckless abandon, particularly at home. But it didn't matter, because Curry's backup, Shaun Livingston – the same Shaun Livingston who, it should be mentioned any time he does something like this, nearly lost a leg following a gruesome knee injury – put up 20 points in 26 minutes on a series of the mid-range jumpers that have come to define his game the past couple of years.

It's not hard to see why scouts were so excited when he was drafted out of high school.  He's a 6-7 point guard with great ball handling skills, and always seems to make the right pass.  He moves with graceful efficiency, never seems out of control.  His game is encased in amber from the days when there was no 3-point line: if the defense tries to play him straight-up he can drive, or just shoot a floater or jumper over the man guarding him, whether it is 6-3 Kyrie Irving or 6-10 Kevin Love.

  • Shaun Livingston's Jumper Is The Poison On The Warriors' Blade (link)

This was all on full display Thursday night, when Livingston scored 20 points in as stylish a way as humanly possible:

Watching him, I thought: he's like a ghost, a phantom.  Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated agrees:
Livingston exists in negative space. While the thrill of watching the Warriors comes from players like Curry and Klay Thompson, Livingston is—almost by definition—the marker of their absence. He fills in at the point alongside Thompson, on the wing alongside Curry, or at the helm alongside neither. His minutes fill the void of the Warriors’ needs, in part because his game grows to complement whichever teammates are on the floor.
He's an insubstantial figure that somehow floats from place to place doing things that appear on the scoreboard.  He rarely sprints, never 'mixes it up'.  But things seem to go well when he's out there.  How does he do it?  Or...and this is a cruel thought, I know...is he just Scott Wedman?  A 6-7 past-his-prime role player who had a big night in a big game, and now will recede back into the shadows?  What is his real value?  WHAT IS HE?

I did a little study, summarized below.  I still don't know what Shaun Livingston is, exactly, but in this year's playoff run he is giving the Warriors the best minutes of anyone on the team, including All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. (Curry, who has been hurt for much of the postseason, gets a pass.)

(Data source here.)

The Galloping Ghost is not a phantasm, not just decoration or one-way bit player.  He is real.  He is integral.  When Curry went down, Livingston and his bad knee were all that stood between the Warriors and oblivion.  But the knee, and Livingston's game, held up.  And now the Warriors are just three wins away from a second consecutive NBA championship.

  • Steve Kerr: Warriors would be 'dead' without Shaun Livingston (link)



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