Unsung hero Shaun Livingston thrives in pressure-packed Game 6 as Warriors continue title chase

Warriors guard Shaun Livingston is seen in a February 2016 file photo. KEITH ALLISON / CC BY-SA 2.0

Superstars get the biggest headlines and the most on-air time for interviews, but often they aren’t the only big stories in the postseason.

Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (and sidelined teammate Kevin Durant), Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, Portland’s CJ McCollum and Damon Lillard and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo received major media coverage throughout the gripping conference semifinal round. The same was true for standouts from Philadelphia, Boston, Houston and Denver.

It might have been the best overall semifinal round in 15-20 years. Really, the overall drama was quite impressive.

I’m sure more than a few fans would’ve been content to see the Trail Blazers and Nuggets duke it out for another seven games. Or maybe not do to the roller-coaster stress level it could cause. But seriously, Terry Stotts and Michael Malone secured their reputations as top-caliber bench bosses in that series.

And even though Denver was a win shy of earning a spot in the Western Conference finals against the Warriors, Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic continued his splendid all-around play against the Blazers. Whoever didn’t realize he had the skill set to be one of the top 10 players in the NBA for the next 10 years, now knows that Jokic is the real deal.

Malone perfectly summed up the way Jokic performed throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs, telling reporters: “I hope after 14 playoff games that America came to appreciate Nikola’s game.” The fourth-year pro averaged 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks in just under 40 minutes in the postseason.

On a similar note, Game 6 of the Warriors-Rockets series on Friday provided a bold reminder of the value that Warriors reserve guard Shaun Livingston has provided, his true impact, during the team’s dynasty years.

Sure, Curry exploded for 33 second-half points after a scoreless first half in the win. That was the biggest element of the game’s narrative.

But quietly, there was Livingston providing a big spark off the bench, scoring 11 points in 14 minutes. What’s more, with him on the floor the Warriors had a plus-14 in points.

In a 23-second sequence in the second quarter, Livingston, who was drafted No. 4 overall by the Clippers in 2004, buried a 5-foot jumper and dunked. The second bucket made it 42-42 with 6:36 left in the half. Moments later, he delivered the ball to Thompson, who splashed a long 3-pointer to put the hosts ahead 48-42.

Every basket was an important one in this back-and-forth series. All six of the Warriors-Rockets games were decided by six or fewer points, and the value of players like Livingston with a ton of playoff experience can’t be overstated.

The 6-foot-7 Livingston didn’t play college ball, but he had obvious talent that NBA scouts recognized. He was selected behind Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon and bounced around the league before settling in as a perfect role player for the Warriors.

He’s been dubbed the “best seventh man in the world.” A huge compliment. Andre Iguodala has certainly proven his worth to the Warriors over the years as an irreplaceable sixth man.

Livingston didn’t make a big spark in the first five games of the series (five total points), but capitalized on scoring chances in the series-closing triumph.

It’s interesting to look back at pre-draft analysis of Livingston from 2004 such as this report from nbadraft.net:

“Give him 30 pounds and he can throw out all the hoards of recruiting mail that he’s received. David Stern would personally swim up the Peoria River to personally grab this magician with a ball. He will not blow by you with blinding speed, but his basketball IQ is so high he can maneuver around defenders using his wonderful sleight of hand, deft changes in speed and long and fluid strides. A wonderful athlete he can crash the boards great from the guard spot. With his great vertical leap and long arms, he will snatch rebounds out of midair only to glide up the court, flowing through defenders to eventually lay the ball into the hands of a teammate for an easy bucket after he’s looked off the any defenders. He still needs the aforementioned added size to his slender frame, which is expected to come with time. His outside jump shot is erratic at times and sometimes he is too unselfish to a fault.”

Every good team needs good backups. The great ones always have a few in reserve. Someone like Livingston.