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Shaun Livingston's long, broken road to unlikely NBA champion

Livingston has broken through his best-case scenarios since a devastating injury, again and again and again. He did it again for the Warriors.

SB Nation's 2015 NBA Finals Guide

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published May 20, 2015. We wrote this story about Shaun Livingston after his 18-point outing in Game 1 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals. He went on to play a solid role off the bench for the Warriors en route to a title in last year's NBA Finals, and scored a team-high 20 points in Game 1 of this year's Finals. We figured you once again might be interested in reading about his painful, beautiful path to NBA success. The original story is below.)

Shaun Livingston kept the Warriors alive Tuesday night in a career performance off the bench. But if you know Shaun Livingston's story, you know this was bigger than a great, meaningful game on a big stage from a random dude.

Livingston has played on nine teams in 10 years, but has never played this deep into the playoffs before. On Tuesday, he came in after the Warriors had taken a huge punch from the Rockets and sparked a huge run. He had 10 of 12 points in the second quarter to cut the Rockets' 13-point deficit down to four. He finished the half with 16 points and the Warriors were up three.

It was the highest-scoring half of his career. He'd only score two points in the second half -- 18 was a playoff career-high -- but his early contributions got Golden State out of a hole and into a position for Steph Curry and crew to power them to a win.

Livingston's performance was a reminder that expectations can only fail us. The expectations of Shaun Livingston's perfect career snapped in an instant in 2007. But over the past decade, he's taken everybody else's expectations -- about how his promise would never pan out -- and demolished them.


We should be thankful Shaun Livingston can walk.

When Livingston came into the NBA in 2004, he was an easy player to get excited about. He turned down a scholarship offer from Duke and the Clippers took him with the No. 4 pick in the draft out of high school. At 6'7, he towered over other NBA point guards. But he was also as fast as them, with court vision, passing instincts and ability that couldn't be taught. Maybe he'd develop a jumper, but if not, he still had a unique and fascinating skill set.

Then, in an instant, it all came crashing down. I watched the video of Shaun Livingston's knee injury in 2007. I haven't watched it since, have no desire to watch it again, and have no desire to show it to you. But, to summarize, he jumped up for an uncontested layup, and when he came down, everything went wrong. You see bad things happen to legs in NFL games, and it's disgusting. But somehow it's even more revolting to see on an NBA player, whose knee was exposed by pants. You can see the whole thing mangle in real time.

Livingston tore his ACL, PCL, MCL, and meniscus and dislocated his knee. There was legitimate concern that his leg would have to be amputated. It took months for him to walk normally.

Shaun Livingston made $13 million on his rookie contract with the Clippers. If he could've salvaged a few million of those dollars, rehabilitated on the Clippers' dime and left basketball with the ability to walk after a gruesome, brutal injury, that would've been enough.


We should be thankful Shaun Livingston ever played another NBA game.

In the 2008 offseason, a year and a half after his injury, doctors cleared Livingston to play basketball again. Of course, he couldn't find a team easily. The Clippers would've had to pay $5 million to keep him for another year per his rookie contract. They would've been foolish to do so.

The Heat took a flier on him. It didn't work out. He played four games. They traded him and cash to the Grizzlies for a top-55 protected draft pick -- essentially paying to get rid of him for nothing in return. Memphis waived him immediately.

Even if that was the end of Livingston's career, it would've been an incredible comeback. He only played in a limited capacity, he wasn't as good as he once was, and he wasn't worth keeping around. But he went from a potential amputation to playing on the highest level of a sport that requires heavy running and jumping. That would've been enough.


We should be thankful Shaun Livingston ever found a legitimate role on an NBA team.

After the Heat, he played on the Thunder's D-League affiliate. He got called up and played in 18 games across two years for the Thunder, but got cut. After the Thunder, he got signed to some 10-day contracts by the Wizards and started 18 games as they tried to lose enough games to land John Wall. (It worked!) He got signed by the Bobcats, where he was actually a member of a rotation, playing 73 games. They traded him to the Bucks after a year. There he started 27 games, but they, too, traded him after a year, this time to the Rockets, who immediately cut him. The Wizards signed him again, and cut him after a month. He got signed by the Cavaliers, who were fighting for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. (It also worked!)

Livingston had established himself of worthy of an NBA roster spot. Again, pretty impressive considering what he'd been through!

But in 2014 with the Nets, he proved himself worthy of routine NBA minutes for a decent team. After an 11-21 start and an injury to Brook Lopez, then-coach Jason Kidd was desperate, so he put Livingston in a small starting lineup alongside Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson. Livingston provided a legit defensive boost. He averaged more than a steal a game, alongside 8.3 points. The Nets won five in a row, 10 out of 11, and made the playoffs with Livingston as a starter.

At first, Livingston's injury appeared to have ruined his NBA career. He went from a team's building block to a guy not worth a roster spot. But he kept earning roster spots -- and kept getting better -- and eventually proved that he could not just be replacement level, but actually be a critical contributor for a good team. That's incredible. And if that's all he'd ever been able to do, that would've been enough.


We should be thankful Shaun Livingston caught on with the Warriors this year.

He's not the reason the Warriors were great this year, not by a long shot.

But Livingston has been a part of their success. He's been a solid contributor off the bench all season. He's a long defender on the perimeter, contributing to the team's NBA-best defensive rating. He can run the point while Steph Curry is out. He hits 50 percent of his shots. (He stopped trying to shoot threes.)

He's a contributing factor on one of the most fun and most successful teams in recent NBA memory. That could have been enough.


Tuesday night, he did that and more.

The Warriors found themselves in a ditch, and Livingston dug them out. He swished pullup jumpers. He finished a couple of dunks on Klay Thompson feeds. He helped make sure people besides James Harden couldn't do much of anything.

At one point late in the game, he drove full-steam ahead and drew a few defenders with him. He jumped, and skewered a pass behind him to a wide-open Curry at his 4 o'clock. Curry missed, but a decade, several ligaments and many teams later, it was the Shaun Livingston from those high school mixtapes. And it happened in the Western Conference Finals.

I would think that would be enough. But the way Livingston tears through best-case scenarios, there might be more to come.

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