OAKLAND — The most confident scorer on the floor in Game 1 of the NBA Finals wasn’t LeBron James or Steph Curry.
It was Shaun Livingston.
The 30-year-old balled out for a team-high 20 points on Thursday and put his old school playing style on display for the world to see. Livingston’s pull-up midrange jumper destroyed Cleveland. He’s the rare veteran guard that is thriving despite the league’s infusion of three-point shooting. He’s the perfect change of pace as Curry’s backup and can even be paired together with the MVP.
Livingston’s an irreplaceable role player. You could never replicate him with a cookie-cutter.
“I just kind of stayed true to my game, played to my strengths,” Livingston said Saturday to reporters gathered at Oracle Arena.
In addition to his throwback brand of basketball, Livingston is known for one of the more gruesome knee injuries in basketball history. Here’s the link to it, but beware: it will make you queasy. Shortly after the injury, doctors feared they may have to amputate Livingston’s leg. It took months of rehab for Livingston to regain the strength to walk. The odds of him returning to the court at the time were close to one percent.
And nine years after tearing his ACL and PCL, Livingston still has to ice and take care of his knee.
“I still have to train. I still have to train and do all my rehab. I have to ice,” Livingston said. “It’s really a day-to-day routine. I can’t get behind.”
Livingston was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft by the Clippers, but the injury derailed his promising potential. For the next five seasons he would bounce around the league like a pinball, from Miami, to the Tulsa 66ers in the D-League, to Washington, to Charlotte, to Milwaukee, back to Washington, to Cleveland. Then Livingston started to really turn the corner in the 2013-14 season with the Brooklyn Nets — averaging 11.5 points per game and showing burst — before signing with the Warriors in the summer of 2014.
Livingston doesn’t downplay the fact that it took many years before he could completely regain trust in his knee.
“Mentally it was the hardest hurdle to get over, not thinking about it,” he said. “Just reacting and playing off your instincts. Because when you’re on the court, it’s all happening too fast, and you don’t have time to think is it going to be okay? Am I going to injure it again? You just play.”
Golden State’s roster is packed tightly with players who have exceeded expectations. Curry and Draymond Green headline that list.
But there is no Warrior who has shown more resiliency in his career than Shaun Livingston. When he ices his knee after every game, he can remember how far he’s traveled to recreate himself as one the most effective role players in the NBA.