The Golden State Warriors moved a step closer to clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a 108-90 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday at Staples Center.
Golden State has won three in a row and is two games clear of the Denver Nuggets in the race for the top seed.
DeMarcus Cousins led the way with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Kevin Durant (15 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and Draymond Green (12 points, six assists, four boards) provided support. Stephen Curry had just seven points but added 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Quinn Cook (18 points) played well off the bench.
Johnathan Williams (17 points, 13 rebounds) spearheaded the effort in defeat for a Lakers team playing without LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.
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Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Green get much of the credit for the Warriors' recent run of success, and rightfully so. They have been unstoppable for so long they have put themselves in the debate about the greatest team in NBA history.
However, even mighty Golden State needs help off the bench, and Shaun Livingston has consistently answered the bell.
Doing so again this postseason is no sure thing. He revealed to Anthony Slater of The Athletic (h/t Ryan Young of Yahoo Sports) he has dealt with a knee injury that has swollen to the size of a softball at times and requires additional maintenance.
"But any time it gets swollen now, it's more about being able to move," he said. "It's stiff. I can't move. It's sore. I come back, it's aching. And this is all before the game even starts. So then it becomes about building myself up so I can be functional on the court. Once I get to the arena, I got to do all this work."
He even said he is contemplating retirement, which, along with his questionable status this season, puts the onus on Cook to potentially fill his role and play at a higher level than he has in his career.
Livingston averaged 18.4 minutes, 6.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists during the last four playoffs for the Warriors. While he isn't asked to decide a series by anchoring the offense with the star-studded starting lineup, playing almost 20 minutes per night has been far from insignificant.
He facilitates for the second unit, uses his size to beat defenders with turnaround jumpers from the elbow and, importantly, allows Curry to rest throughout the course of the postseason.
Curry has endured plenty of wear and tear while playing in four straight NBA Finals, especially as opposing defenses take physical approaches in an effort to sap his energy, hoping his three-pointers fall just short in the fourth quarter.
Livingston has been the one to counter those efforts with his critical bench minutes in the past, but Cook will surely have an opportunity to do that in the playoffs—and possibly in the future with the former's long-term health a question mark.
This postseason is also a golden opportunity for the Duke product who is due for a qualifying offer this offseason and can force a decision with impressive play.
Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area called Cook the "lead candidate" to provide the Warriors with much-needed bench scoring in the playoffs, pointing out he is the only G League player to finish with a 50/40/90 shooting slash and even shot a better percentage from deep (44.2 percent) than Curry, Thompson and Durant last season.
Cook's scoring has dropped from 9.5 to 6.3 points per night from last season to this one, but he is hitting his stride after pouring in 21 points in Sunday's win over the Denver Nuggets and another 18 on Thursday.
His confidence was on full display for stretches against the Lakers as he darted his way through the defense and didn't hesitate to shoot when given enough space.
He, just like Livingston, is not the first—or even the fifth—player fans think of when discussing the Warriors, but he is an underrated X-factor who has a chance to seize an opportunity at a better future for himself while helping claim a third consecutive title for his team.
Both teams are in action Friday, with the Lakers facing the Los Angeles Clippers and the Warriors hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers.