When Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith left Monday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors with a knee injury, it opened the door for former University of Kentucky star DeAndre Liggins to contribute in a big way to a 116-112 victory that ended the team’s three-game losing streak.
Liggins, who hadn’t played the team’s last two games and has 10 DNPs this season, started the second half and finished with five points, five rebounds and an assist in 21 minutes.
“Man, we all brothers, so if one goes down another got to step up,” Liggins said. “I just gave them energy. That’s what I’m here for, to give the team energy. We needed a big win and we got one. … I’m always ready. When my name’s called upon, I’ll always be ready no matter what. If I don’t play 10 games, the 11th game if I get in I’m going to be ready. That’s my job.”
The Cavaliers were plus-12 with Liggins in the game.
“The game ball goes to DeAndre Liggins, staying ready, coming in and giving us some fight, giving us some grit, some great minutes,” said Cavaliers star LeBron James, who scored a season-high 34 points.
I’ve always had that grit in me. I’m going to always carry that no matter what. That’s how I was built. That’s how I was raised.
As is his reputation, it was Liggins’ defense that was essential for Cleveland.
“I like the energy he brings defensively,” Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought we needed that. I thought we needed the toughness that he brings. Just him flying around. It may not be the right coverage all the time, but just his activity … the way he plays hard. … He made a big three, got a big offensive rebound that we needed. … The guys kind of fed off that energy.”
Asked after the game what it takes to play good defense, Liggins said, “Determination. Multiple efforts. You gotta have a fight in you. … That’s what I’m about.”
Liggins made life tough on Raptors star Kyle Lowry, who scored 16 of his 24 points before halftime.
Liggins said his gameplan was to “just to pick him up (at) halfcourt and try to take him out of bringing the ball up. … Have somebody else bring the ball up and initiate the offense. I think that kind of rattled him a little bit. I think that’s what made us get a big lead and change the game.”
Liggins, who is averaging 2.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.4 steals in 9.3 minutes per game, also connected on his first three-point attempt of the season.
“Coaches want me to be aggressive now, not just be a defensive guy,” he said. “I can make open shots. A lot of teams are going to sag off of me because they don’t know me because I haven’t played.”
Liggins’ toughness fits in well with the Cavaliers, and that’s a reason the team has kept him on the roster.
“I’ve always had that grit in me. I’m going to always carry that no matter what,” he said. “That’s how I was built. That’s how I was raised. I’ve been through a lot in my life. I’m just happy I’m in a good place right now, and I’m going to continue to build off it.”