The Golden State Warriors are in unprecedented territory. They’re attempting something only four other teams (Minneapolis Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and Los Angeles Lakers) in NBA history have done — win three straight championships.
They’re off to a good start so far. After a tough, competitive first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, they’ve looked dominant against the Houston Rockets in the first two games of the conference semifinals.
When the Warriors stars are hitting on all cylinders, it’s incredibly difficult to stop them. But would they be in the position that they’re in without meaningful and timely contributions from the other guys? Despite the star power a championship team may have, every team needs guys who can spell those stars for a few minutes here and there.
The Bulls had the duo of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but do they still win without guys like Horace Grant, John Paxson, Steve Kerr and Toni Kukoc? Despite having Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, do the Lakers still win without contributions from Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Robert Horry?
The Warriors have arguably the best backcourt in the NBA with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But every now and then they need a breather and it’s guys like Shaun Livingston and Quinn Cook who are called upon.
Livingston has been with the Warriors since this group won its first title together in 2015. His return from a near devastating injury has been well documented, and he’s since been able to reinvent his game as a reliable guard off the bench.
“It’s been a blessing, just being a part of the car, being a part of the engine,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “It’s more than what I could ask for and obviously I’m taking advantage of the moment.”
In terms of statistical production, Livingston’s numbers might be down across the board. His 13.1 minutes per game these playoffs are the lowest since he’s joined the Warriors. He’s averaging only 2.1 points per game on 32.1 percent shooting from the field.
But the Warriors know that he’s going to be ready when they need him. In last night’s Game 2 win over the Rockets, he had one of his best games this postseason with six points on 3-7 shooting from the field while playing good defense.
Even he isn’t scoring, that’s not his primary role when he’s out there with the second unit. His job is to quarterback the team and make sure everything runs smoothly in the starter’s absence.
“Keeping guys organized, focused in on what we can do,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “It’s making sure that all five guys are in sync offensively and defensively.”
While Livingston is most likely going to play a key role in the Warriors playoff run, that may not always be the case for Cook. He’s seen uneven playing time so far. He mostly saw garbage time minutes against the Clippers, and he’s yet to play against the Rockets.
He knows, however, that there’s a possibility his number will be called during this run and he’ll be asked to contribute out on the court. But right now, it’s about staying ready and staying prepared despite not knowing when that time will be.
“Just getting work in, staying engaged to what’s going on. It’s preparing as if you were going to play, really just staying consumed with what we got going on, what our common goal is,” Cook told Basketball Insiders. “It’s been like that for a lot of us all season so we kind of keep each other motivated, keep each other positive. We all encourage each other, everybody believes in each other, it makes our job easier when we go out there.”
On a team that already has sharpshooters, Cook gives the Warriors yet another perimeter threat. He’s a career 41.8 percent shooter from three-point range. He shot 40.5 percent from distance this season, and in the playoffs, he’s up to 44.4 percent.
He’s also called upon to run the offense and keep the ball moving while playing good defense on opposing point guards.
“It’s really getting guys shots and being steady,” Cook told Basketball Insiders. “It’s also scoring and spacing the floor cause I can shoot. I just try to be an aggressive leader out there.”
As the Warriors continue their hopes for a three-peat, both Livingston and Cook will probably be asked to deliver in key moments at some point. As one of the veterans on this team, Livingston’s been around a lot of different locker rooms and knows the importance of staying focused.
There was much written about the Warriors supposed locker room issues early in the season. But rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
“That’s what we’re here for, to win,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “Having great guys and having that camaraderie, that only adds to it. We’ve just got to stay locked in.”
Having been on the team last season and winning his first championship, Cook also knows the importance of not looking ahead and instead focusing on the moment at hand.
“We take it day by day, we don’t look at future matchups,” Cook told Basketball Insiders. “We just look at this practice, this possession, this film session, this next quarter, this next half, just take it game by game and prepare the right way. I get to learn from guys like this every day which is good for me.”