Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 5.52.38 AM

Different Back Court Combination Lifts Golden State in Game 1

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 5.52.38 AMOnce again it was the back court duo that proved to be the difference for Golden State.

Only during a 104-89 victory over the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals, it wasn’t the All-Star combination of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson carried the offense.

Instead, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa — the backup guards for the vaunted Splash Brothers duo — carried the offense. 

Typically the Warriors thrive when the long range shots from Curry and Thompson are raining down, but with both players mired in a shooting slump, it was the mid-range game of Livingston and the speed of Barbosa attacking the paint that was devastating for Cleveland.

Livingston scored a team-high 20 points, after totaling 27 points during the seven game series against Oklahoma City, on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, while Barbosa added 11 points as he made each of his five shot attempts.

“You don’t win championships without the entire squad coming in and making an impact on games,” Curry said. “I missed some shots and didn’t get a rhythm, but the way that they defended, we’ll be able to find some adjustments for Game 2.”

Thompson and Curry combined to shoot just 8-of-27 from the field, totaling just 20 points. Prior to Thursday night, the lowest point total the duo submitted all season was 29 points.

With the starting guards struggling, Livingston used his 6-foot-7 frame to create enough separation in to flourish.

Seven of Livingston’s eight made shots came between 10 and 16 feet away from the rim. The lone remaining shot was converted after he grabbed a missed 3-point attempt from Curry and banked in an easy layup.

Livingston doubled the scoring of Cleveland’s entire bench on the night, as the Warriors posted a 45-10 advantage from the reserves.

“I think I took the same shots last series but it’s just staying confident in my shot, understanding my game, where the shots are going to come from and trusting it,” Livingston said. “It could be anybody on any given night off the bench, and it’s our job, really to stay ready.”

Warriors guard Shaun Livingston averaged 8.1 points per game during his first 17 appearances in the 2016 NBA playoffs before erupting for 20 points Thursday night.
Warriors guard Shaun Livingston averaged 8.1 points per game during his first 17 appearances in the 2016 NBA playoffs before erupting for 20 points Thursday night.

Along with his scoring numbers, Livingston tallied four rebounds, three assists, a steal and converted each of his four free throw attempts.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr left Livingston on the floor for more than 26 minutes, his highest total since the opening round of the 2016 playoffs.

His trust in the bench wasn’t limited to Livingston, as Andre Iguodala — the NBA Finals MVP a year ago — logged 35 minutes on the floor, totaling 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block.

A back injury sent Barbosa to the locker room in the second quarter, limiting him to just 11 minutes, but once he returned to the floor, he submitted a flawless effort.

Barbosa routinely flew past his defender to either give himself an open look at the rim, or begin a sequence to create an easy opportunity for a teammate.

While the Warriors bench was piling up the points, Cleveland couldn’t find anyone to convert shots outside of LeBron James.

The 31-year-old fell one assist shy of his seventh career triple-double in NBA Finals play, finishing with 23 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and a block.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 29.6 percent from the field Thursday night.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 29.6 percent from the field Thursday night.

Only one player, reserve guard Iman Shumpert, shot better than 46 percent from the field for Cleveland. Shumpert made his only shot attempt on the night.

As a team, the Cavaliers converted 38.1 percent of their shot attempts, just the second time the team has shot below 40 percent during the 2016 playoffs.

Kevin Love scored 17 points, but needed 17 shots to reach the total and Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 26 points, but shot 31.8 percent from the field.

Golden State turned the ball over just nine times, tying its lowest amount during the 2016 post season.

The Warriors anticipate Curry and Thompson to resume their roles as precise shooters Sunday night in Game 2.

If they falter, the team knows they have plenty of other scoring options.

“They command so much attention, especially Steph off the pick-and-roll,” Livingston said. “All it takes is one shot to go in, we know that — same for Klay — and they get rolling fast.”

About Brendan Galella

Brendan Galella founded Shatter the Glass to make the NBA even more accessible to basketball fans. Composing player rankings, team evaluations and intriguing observations, he hopes to turn every reader into a dedicated and educated basketball follower.

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