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Cavs bench didn’t show up, Warriors bench showed out

Shaun Livingston, salute

There’s an serendipitous sense of synergy that a Bay Area team would follow the sage advice of a Bay Area legend Tupac Shakur: “You ain’t s— without your homeboys.” Because that’s exactly the wisdom the Golden State Warriors have used to their advantage all season.

If you look at it strictly by the numbers, the blueprint for a Golden State loss was there. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 20 points on 8-for-27 shooting. And the Warriors took 10 free throw attempts the entire game. The Cleveland Cavaliers, the road team, took 20.

Yet, Golden State won by 15.

“What happened? They scored 45 points [off the bench], we scored 10. That’s what happened,” LeBron James said after the game.

Andre Iguodala played starters’ minutes, mostly attached to James’ hip. But the lion’s share of the (offensive) credit falls into the hands of Shaun Livingston. TNT analyst Charles Barkley has been singing his praises all season, even dubbing him the best bench player in basketball. And with every pull-up jumper within 16 feet (he went 8-for-8 from that range, for the record), it’s almost as if Barkley’s benediction was booming throughout Oracle Arena.

The 10-year veteran steadied Golden State all night with timely buckets via a midrange game that seemed all but on autopilot. Too big for Kyrie Irving to guard and too agile for Cleveland’s bigs, Livingston was a mismatch nightmare and coasted to 20 points on 8-for-10 from the field.

“Obviously,” James said, “the game ball goes to Shaun Livingston. He gave them a huge spark.”

By contrast, if Livingston was a pair of jumper cables, consider the Cavs bench a blown transmission. Coming into Game 1, Channing Frye was hotter than fish grease in the playoffs, averaging 8.6 points on 57.8 percent 3-point shooting in only 16 minutes a game. Viewed as the Cavs’ “secret weapon” and bona fide X-factor in the series — both of which he can be — the exact opposite happened Thursday night.

Frye took one shot, finishing with two points. If Cleveland’s going to win four of the next six games, more touches is an obvious (and simple) cure. Playing time, too, as Frye only saw the floor for seven minutes. A defensive liability, for sure, Frye’s best defense is his ability to stretch the floor on offense.

Going back to Cleveland tied 1-1 is a lot different from being down 0-2. More bench points (10) than Irving free throw attempts (12) should help.

The main thing about this series, and really the playoffs in particular, is avoiding overreactions to whatever transpires in Game 1. Game 2, however, is when desperation kicks in. The Warriors did their job in protecting home court. The Cavs can do their job Sunday by repeating exactly what they did in Game 2 of the 2015 NBA Finals by escaping with a win. The second game of a series is never Game 7, but the mentality probably should be.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.