OAKLAND -– The shots kept going up, kept going in and the Oracle Arena crowd kept getting louder and louder and louder, and there was nothing the Cleveland Cavaliers could do about it.
Not Steph Curry, and not Klay Thompson.
This was a Shaun Livingston takeover, and the veteran point guard lit the blaze that carried the Warriors to a 104-89 victory over the Cavaliers Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
“Obviously, the game ball goes to Shaun Livingston,” Cavs star LeBron James said. “Came in, gave them a huge spark.”
Torching Cleveland defenders at will, Livingston scored a team-high 20 points, his career-high in a playoff game, draining 8-of-10 shots in almost metronomic fashion.
Stop, rise, fire . . . swish.
It’s nothing Curry hasn’t seen in practice, where he occasionally defends Livingston -– or at least makes the effort.
“Sometimes, there is really nothing you can do about it,” Curry said. “You try to just contest his shot, but sometimes he won’t even see you.”
Livingston is that rare 6-foot-7 point guard, with an ever rarer consistently good midrange jump shot. He shoots it high, well above his head, leaving shorter defenders rather helpless.
There is no doubt that Livingston studied Cleveland guards Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova and realized there would be scoring opportunities. Irving is 6-foot-3 and Dellavedova, the former Saint Mary’s College star, is 6-foot-4 but not much of a leaper.
“I’ll just say it’s matchups,” Livingston told CSNBayArea.com. “Sometimes they work in your favor, sometimes they don’t. This team can be a good matchup for me.”
This was the kind of game NBA scouts imagined when they first saw Livingston, a lanky guard at Central High School in Peoria, Ill. The next Magic Johnson. The next Penny Hardaway. The Los Angeles Clippers chose him with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft. He was 18, brimming with talent. The world beckoned.
That was 12 years ago and, in many ways, a career ago.
Livingston’s journey is familiar to many NBA fans, but it never gets old. On Feb. 26, 2007, he sustained one of the most devastating knee injuries in sports history, tearing his ACL, MCL, PCL and lateral meniscus, and also dislocated both his patella and tibia/femoral region. Doctors discussed the possibility of amputation. That much was avoided, but his career and life changed forever.
He fought his way back, missing the entire 2007-08 season and returning in 2008-09. He spent the next six seasons trying to make it somewhere, anywhere, NBA or D-League. By the time he found his way to the Warriors as a free agent in 2014, Livingston had played for nine different teams.
He’s a Warrior, has worn the jersey for 195 games, regular-season and postseason combined -– more than any of his various other teams.
This, though, was peak performance on a night when the Warriors needed it, as neither Curry nor Thompson could find their shot.
“Shaun’s a guy who has battled through much more than having to step up in a game,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “He’s been from the top to the bottom and back. And when you go through so much in life and his career, it makes stepping up in the game easy.”
It looked easy on this night. The Cavaliers might beg to differ.