The imperative, Shaun Livingston would later say, was to provide energy, but no one could have seen this coming, maybe not even Livingston himself.
Eight years removed from a catastrophic injury that nearly ended in the amputation of his left leg, there was Livingston, a backup guard on the best team in the NBA, leading what may wind up being one of the most crucial Warriors playoff runs to date.
There are certain games with obvious turning points, and for the Warriors, those turning points are often almost frighteningly emphatic. So it went Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena, a contest the Warriors would wind up winning 110-106 over the Houston Rockets.
Down 16 in the second quarter, coach Steve Kerr chose to go with a small lineup, and Livingston led the way, pushing the tempo and grabbing key rebounds and making key layups.
There is, Livingston admitted, no real time for him to savor everything that’s happened to him while the moment is unfolding.
“The opportunity is amazing,” he said, and it might feel more amazing if it weren’t the kind of thing that the Warriors have become accustomed to.
It’s hard to extricate that sense of awe when you think about the fact that Livingston is in his 11th season in the league after that knee injury suffered in February, 2007, seemed destined to end it prematurely. Livingston — who has only made the playoffs twice before, and has never gotten this far — finished with 18 points in nearly 29 minutes of play. Often he was on the floor with both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a look that the Warriors have utilized throughout the playoffs, one that Curry said allows them to speed up the pace. “It really stretches people out,” Kerr said of the small lineup. “[Shaun] was terrific. Kept us in the game in the second quarter, when we were really struggling.”
It wasn’t just Livingston, but he was on the floor at both key moments in the game, the second-quarter run that got the Warriors the lead at halftime and a 9-0 burst that broke a 97-97 tie in the fourth quarter. That time, it was Harrison Barnes — who had 14 clutch points and a key blocked shot — hitting the first two baskets, yet another example of the team relying on someone other than Curry and Thompson to carry them at key moments. But with the Warriors ahead 101-97, it was Livingston who found Curry wide open underneath the basket for a layup, a possession that gave them enough comfort to withstand a last-minute run.
Said Kerr, “What I like about our team is we tend to find somebody.”