Bulls

Warriors' Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala rewarded for patience with NBA Finals success

Warriors' Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala rewarded for patience with NBA Finals success

Often times patience is necessary in the game of basketball. On offense it could be waiting for a pick and roll to develop. Defensively it may be holding your position in anticipation for the exact moment to jump into a passing lane. But sometimes what the game gives can be taken away in an instant.

For Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala patience and perseverance have been required traits woven into the success of their NBA careers.

After years of being tested they were rewarded with an NBA Championship last season as key reserves for the Golden State Warriors. This season they helped the organization capture the most regular season wins in league history.

Long before winning a title and being part of a 73-win season, Livingston and Iguodola both developed their skills while growing up in Illinois.

Livingston was born and raised in Peoria and won back-to-back IHSA state titles before leaping to the NBA straight out of Peoria Central High School. Iguodala, a Springfield native, sprouted up at Lanphier High School and then headed to Arizona for two seasons under Lute Olson’s tutelage prior to turning pro.

Both players were selected in the 2004 NBA Draft. Livingston went fourth overall to the Los Angeles Clippers, while Iguodala was taken ninth by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Iguodala would spend eight seasons in Philly, eventually becoming an All-Star in 2012 and leading his team to the playoffs five times. A second round exit following a seven game series with the Boston Celtics would be the farthest Iguodala would go in the postseason.

An offseason trade to the Denver Nuggets would offer the first real change Iguodala would experience in his career. In the 2013 playoffs, a first round loss to a talented but inexperienced Warriors team led by Stephen Curry would be the end of Iguodala’s lone season in Denver.

Before the 2013-14 season, he was the centerpiece of a sign-and-trade deal that brought him to the Warriors, where he would start 63 games and be named to the All-NBA Defensive first team. But a Game 7 loss to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs would bring changes to the organization.

In came new head coach Steve Kerr, whose most notable coaching decision was to start Harrison Barnes over Iguodala. The 30-year-old veteran would be relegated to a sixth man role for the first time in his career. While at the time it wasn’t easy coming off the bench, it did prove to be effective.

The Warriors would catch fire and make it all the way to the NBA Finals. After finding themselves down 2-1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kerr decided to go with a small lineup and inserted Iguodala as a starter with hopes providing better defense on LeBron James. The change worked. Three straight wins over the Cavs earned the Warriors an NBA title. Iguodala was named Finals MVP averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists after remerging as a starter.

Livingston’s route to championship glory was much different.

A catastrophic knee injury in 2007 altered the Clippers' franchise point guard’s career. Livingston tore his anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus, while also spraining his medial collateral ligament and dislocating his patella and tibo-fibular joint in a late February game against Charlotte. Amputation was a possibility.

Fortunately the worst case scenario would not play out. After a long and painful rehabilitation, Livingston signed with the Miami Heat and returned to the court in October of 2008. He bounced around the league playing for seven different teams over six seasons. He found a little stability and success as a starter with the Brooklyn Nets, before landing with the Warriors as a free agent prior to the 2014-15 season.

Livingston would play in a career-high 78 games, averaging 5.9 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds per game as a key reserve along side Iguodola. Although he was only on the court 19 minutes each night, he was a factor on an NBA Championship team. This a fitting reward for a man who had to overcome so much just to be standing on the court, let alone a major contributor off the bench.

Now in his second straight playoffs for the defending champions Livingston is shining even brighter. A team-high 20 points along with four rebounds and three assists was instrumental in a Game 1 victory over the Cavs. Iguodala had 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the win.

All these years later the two Illinois natives are experiencing overwhelming success. Not because it was their right. Not due to good fortune. Instead it’s been their unique abilities to persevere and be patient that is at the root of their basketball giving tree.

And the tree was happy.

  

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.