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Livingston commands Nets in thriller

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When the Nets signed Shaun Livingston, they envisioned a backup point guard playing limited minutes. On Friday night at the Barclays Center, Livingston shined the brightest.

As a player who will always be remembered for his devastating knee injury, Livingston commands the offense in point guard Deron Williams’ absence. Livingston carried the Nets to a 104-95 win in a double-overtime thriller. He’s strapped the team to his back through their best stretch of the season.

The statement win extends the Nets’ winning streak to a season-high five games. The team notched notable wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, and now Heat during the stretch.

“We’ve obviously been playing better as of late,” Livingston said. “I think our momentum that we’re carrying into this game, we’re trying to ride that wave. Guys are playing well and we’re feeling better about ourselves. It’s good, we’ll take any win we can get right now.”

Livingston put the punctuation mark on the game with a spinning drive to the rim capped off with a two-handed dunk.

While LeBron James and Joe Johnson posted monster scoring numbers, Livingston racked up the stats. He scored 19 points, grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds, dished out three assists, blocked three shots and drew a critical offensive foul against James late in the first overtime. The foul resulted in James’ sixth of the game, earning him a dismissal.

“He’s tremendous,” forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “I think we got a little steal in the beginning of the season when we got Shaun. He just showed his potential and he’s a great talent, just blossomed tonight.”

A player who once faced leg amputation due to the knee injury accounted for a career-best 51:13 minutes on the floor.

“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been in some rough places,” Livingston said. “Especially right after my injury, that’s a long time ago. It was different thoughts, but those doubts kind of turned to faith, my family, everybody that’s in my corner, God, everybody. It brought me a long way.”

Even veteran guard Paul Pierce, who scored 23 points, made mention of Livingston’s early-career misfortune.

“Coming out of high school, we always knew he had the talent before the injury,” Pierce said. “Right now, he’s really maturing, coming into his own, he’s getting an opportunity, he’s getting the minutes, and he’s really showing what he can do.”

With the Nets rolling in the second overtime, Livingston exited with the remaining starters to rousing applause.

Livingston’s length and defensive prowess signal the Nets’ emergence under their own basket. While he does not possess the same overall talent as Williams, Livingston changes the game on the defensive end.

Livingston has truly seized the opportunity afforded to him. Since he normally helmed the second group, Williams’ injury enabled Livingston to showcase his skills with the Nets’ best unit.

“We need Deron to get healthy, but we have guys that have an opportunity now, and [Shaun’s] one of them,” Pierce said. “He’s taking advantage of it. He’s doing everything we’re asking, he’s running the show, he’s being a star out there.”

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