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NBA Saturday: Livingston Steps up for Warriors

Shaun Livingston has stepped up for the Warriors in the absence of Stephen Curry.

Jesse Blancarte

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Arguably no player in the NBA has had a career with peaks and valleys as dramatic as Shaun Livingston. Drafted fourth overall in the 2004 draft, Livingston was pegged as the NBA’s next superstar point guard. Standing 6’7 with a huge wingspan, great hands, a versatile skillset and superior court vision, Livingston was supposed to one day change the way we think about point guards.

In the 2005-06 season, Livingston started scratching the surface of his potential. However, we all know what happened on February 26, 2007, when Livingston suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in modern professional sports history. After going up for a transition layup, his knee buckled on the landing. Livingston tore his ACL, PCL, lateral meniscus, severely sprained his MCL and dislocated his patella and tibio-fibular joint.

Livingston went through a grueling rehab and eventually signed a contract with the Miami HEAT on October 3, 2008. From there, Livingston would be traded and waived multiple times, bouncing from team to team and even spending time in the D-League. Livingston finally managed to play 76 games with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14 and parlayed that into a three-year, $16 million contract with the Golden State Warriors.

Livingston didn’t put up huge numbers for the Warriors last season, but he was instrumental in their championship run. He picked up where he left off in Brooklyn, playing tough defense, facilitating the offense and doing all the little things to help his team win. Now, with Stephen Curry sidelined with a foot and ankle injury, Livingston has been asked to step in as the starting point guard for the Warriors over their last two playoff games.

Over those two games, Livingston is averaging 16 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. Again, these aren’t earth-shattering numbers, nor do they come close to Curry’s usual production. However, Livingston has managed to step in and facilitate the Warriors’ offense efficiently, while providing solid defense as well.

The interesting part about Livingston starting in place of Curry is the extreme contrast in which these two guards play. Curry is a magician with the ball and a sniper coming off of screens. Opposing defenses can’t afford to give Curry a moment of daylight since he can get his shot off in the blink of an eye. This isn’t the case for Livingston, who has shot 19 percent from three-point range over the course of his career and has made only two three-pointers this season.

Livingston may have never changed the way we think about point guards, but his game is still distinct from most point guards today. Instead of launching three-pointers, Livingston uses his length and skill to score from midrange and out of the post – two parts of the floor where defenses tend to funnel opposing players since those are considered to be inefficient shots. This is an extreme shift from Curry, who takes the majority of his shots from beyond the arc and at the rim. While Livingston can’t spread the court with his shooting and can’t get teammates open looks the way Curry can, he has done a nice job of moving the ball, finding his shooters and filling in open spaces of the court to be a secondary scorer.

In Game 2, Livingston managed to score in a variety of ways, including pullup jumpers from midrange, several postups against Patrick Beverley and an alley-oop from Draymond Green in transition. He also made smart, on-point passes to his teammates, which led to several open looks. Golden State’s offense generates open looks efficiently, and Livingston did a good job of keeping things simple, being patient and finding his teammates the moment they found some separation from their defenders.

Livingston did more of the same in Game 3. He got another alley-oop from Green in transition, abused Beverley in the post and in isolation and also threw down a highlight-worthy dunk over Dwight Howard after blowing by his defender. Livingston didn’t have as many assists in Game 3, but he played solid defense and made a key play at the end of the game that almost sealed the win for the Warriors.

With just over 14 seconds left on the clock and the Warriors down by one, Livingston stole the Rockets’ inbounds pass, which led to a transition layup for Ian Clark that put the Warriors up by one with 10.6 seconds left to play. Of course, James Harden came down on the other end and won the game with a step-back jumper over Andre Iguodala, but the steal and assist from Livingston gave the Warriors a chance to steal a road playoff game without its superstar. The Warriors did not put together their best effort in Game 3 (to say the least), but Livingston played well – providing his usual steady leadership and contributions on both ends of the court.

Of course, Livingston cannot replace what Curry brings to the table. No one really can. But it’s a nice luxury to have someone as versatile and skilled as Livingston to fill in when Curry is out with an injury.

Jerry West, an adviser and Executive Board Member of the Warriors, spoke with Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle about Livingston and what he brings to Golden State.

“One of my favorite signings, to be honest with you,” West said on Tuesday. “I spent some time with Jason Kidd (then-coach of the Brooklyn Nets) that summer, and he was very candid about Shaun being one of his favorite players on the Nets. Spend some time with him and you realize what kind of a kid he is, just an incredible addition to our team.

“The thing I like about him, he understands the game, knows his role, terrific ballhandler, and that quick jumper — you’re right, that’s a shot that’s very conducive to winning and is very much missed in the NBA today. This is a guy who can go in there and not try to overpower people, but finesse them to where he can not only score, but deliver the ball to other people. And he’s a very selfless player. At times, I wish he’d be a little more aggressive offensively.”

It’s true that Livingston can be a little too passive at times, but that’s how he has always played the game. He is always looking to setup his teammates first and foremost, turning to his own offense only when he has a clear advantage. But as we have seen in these last few games, he is tough to stop when he is playing to his strengths, even for a strong defender like Beverley. While the Warriors fell short to a very flawed Houston Rockets team in Game 3, Livingston did his part in putting the team in a position to win.

Curry is expected to play in Game 4, which will move Livingston back into his reserve role. His numbers will likely go back down to his usual averages, but make no mistake about it, he will continue to be a key contributor for the Warriors in the playoffs.

He entered the league as a potential phenom, suffered what looked to be a career-ending injury, spent years bouncing from team to team and finally signed a multi-year deal and won a championship last season. Now, he is the Warriors’ safety net in case Curry continues to struggle with his injury, which is a pretty nice luxury for Golden State. Livingston may not be an elite player, but he’s really, really good and one of the easiest players to route for in the entire league.

“Thank God we have him,” West said. “We’d be in trouble without him.”

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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