Golden State was let down mightily by its role players in the first three games of the NBA Finals. Harrison Barnes lost his shot, Draymond Green lost his confidence, and Marreese Speights even lost his dignity. With Cleveland successfully managing the might of the Splash Brothers, the drop-off from the Dubs’ typically-stupendous supporting cast was magnified as they went down 2-1.
Game 4 saw the Warriors revert to their more familiar form. Green was decisive and effective working in the ample space afforded by Cleveland’s Stephen Curry-focused defensive scheme. Barnes managed to bury a pair of wide-open threes and Golden State’s ultimate role player, Andre Iguodala, played what may have been the best all-around game by a Warrior in the series.
Unsung among the ranks of Steve Kerr’s deep pool of reserves, however, was Shaun Livingston, who — aside from Iguodala — may have had the biggest impact of the bunch on Thursday night.
Livingston played just over 24 minutes in the Warriors’ 103-82 Finals-squaring win (by far his most action in the series), but filled the stat sheet in his limited time on the floor. His seven points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from the line, along with his four assists, gave Golden State a tangible boost. A stingy 22.2 defensive field-goal percentage showcased his defensive prowess, and his team-best plus-25 offered confirmation of his overwhelmingly positive impact on the game.
Those things were all fine and dandy, but where Livingston really proved his worth against the Cavaliers in Game 4 was on the glass, where he was active and impressive all night long. He didn’t just tie Barnes and Iguodala for the team’s best rebound total with eight (in significantly fewer minutes than both) — Livingston provided Golden State with an answer to its rebounding woes that have persisted throughout the Finals.
Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov have feasted on the glass. When on the floor together, the pair have hauled in 56.8 percent of available boards in four Finals games. While Cleveland only leads the race on the offensive glass in the series by a 49-45 margin (and holds just a 192-183 glass advantage overall), Thompson and Mozgov have gathered a monstrous 34 offensive rebounds combined, supplying a handful of extra possessions that have been absolutely vital for Cleveland as it attempts to slow down the pace with its plodding and inefficient offense.
Scooping up misses is one of the few obvious advantages the Cavs hold in this series, and it’s not something Golden State will be able to completely eradicate. However, Livingston’s performance on Thursday — particularly in the fourth quarter — must have eased Kerr’s mind, giving him the knowledge that at least one member of his interchangeable bunch of perimeter players can hang tough with Cleveland’s garbage men.
In a game that saw Golden State get out-rebounded 49-44, and 16-6 on the offensive glass, Livingston was the only Warrior with more than 10 minutes of floor time to post a rebounding percentage higher than 50 (52.9). Even though he played only half the game, 25 of the team’s 38 defensive boards came with Livingston on the court; Golden State snagged a 27-24 total rebound advantage with the 6-7 guard patrolling the floor.
Those kinds of positive numbers have been hard to come by for most of the men in gold and blue. To this point in the Finals, Kerr’s four most commonly used lineups have failed to retrieve more than 47.4 percent of misses — with the now deceased starting lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Barnes, Green and Andrew Bogut forfeiting six out of every ten balls up for grabs in 44 minutes together.
Livingston, on the other hand, has been a part of Golden State’s top-rebounding ensemble in these playoffs. The unit of Curry, Thompson, Livingston, Barnes and Green, while puny, has rebounded fantastically throughout the playoffs in 31 minutes together. Livingston’s play in Game 4 should entice Kerr to more regularly deploy that lineup, which in a limited sample is sporting an unsustainable-but-impressive +48.9 NET rating since the playoffs began.
Of course Livingston isn’t some kind of antidote to all of the issues Cleveland presents. Livingston and his whopping total of only three attempted three-pointers in 101 games this season throw a wrench into Kerr’s perimeter-oriented offense. With Cleveland forcing everybody not named Steph or Klay to beat them, Livingston isn’t able to make the Cavs pay the same way Barnes, Iguodala or even Leandro Barbosa can.
That said, with Barnes and Green appearing to curb their respective spells of poor play in Game 4, Livingston’s lack of shooting might not be so crippling to the Warriors’ attack should Kerr utilize that lineup more often going forward.
Shooting frankly isn’t what Livingston was brought to the Bay Area to provide, anyway. He’s a Ron Adams type of defender, capable of making the switches that are consistently asked of Golden State’s perimeter players. (Adams, just to make sure you know, is Golden State’s assistant coach and defensive specialist.) Though his career rebounding numbers are by no means stellar, Livingston has proven in these playoffs — especially Game 4 — that glass-crashing can definitely be a part of his repertoire, and a significant one to boot.
On Thursday, Livingston’s rebounding helped address two problems that have hounded the Warriors against their pesky and resilient opponents. Not only did he reduce the precious additional possessions David Blatt’s group has relied upon so heavily thus far, but his point guard instincts helped him initiate the fast-break opportunities off defensive boards that have been so rare for his team:
A measely 11.6 percent of the Warriors’ points in the Finals have come off transition opportunities, down from 19 percent in the regular season. NBA.com’s stats suggest the Warriors scored a lower percentage of fast-break points in Game 4 with Livingston on the floor than anybody else (12.9 percent). However, missed layups like the one above took place on more than one instance when Livingston started the break. With more sound finishing by his teammates, Livingston’s defensive rebounding would have yielded far better transition scoring numbers.
Cleveland’s dogged commitment to crashing the glass has caused the Warriors all kinds of problems in this wildly entertaining series. Kerr seemed to finally find at least a mildly effective formula to counter the disruptive likes of Mozgov and Thompson in Game 4.
By injecting a steady dose of Livingston into his small-ball lineups, Kerr might be able to further cut into Cleveland’s narrow rebounding edge. In the process, he just might block the Cavs’ best path to victory.
— All stats via NBA.com/Stats