Last Wednesday, in the Thunder's preseason opener against Houston, Liggins came off the bench and supplied an immediate spark. All he did was be a ball hawk on both ends. He clamped down on his man defensively, relentlessly chasing guys like Jeremy Lamb and Chandler Parsons on screens. He played the passing lanes, pick-pocketing unsuspecting opponents before streaking the other way for easy baskets. He stuck his nose under the basket, mixing it up in the paint to fight for rebounds, loose balls and any bucket he could manufacture from in close.
Liggins scored 10 points with four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block in a surprising 25 minutes that were earned through his play, not planned in advance.
“He had a great game,” Durant said. “(Expletive), he had more points than I did and he's not even really a scorer and guys weren't looking for him.”
Against the Bobcats on Tuesday, Liggins played 26 minutes — six more than Brooks said he would after announcing him as the starter 90 minutes before tip. Again, every second was earned. Liggins finished with five points on 2-for-2 shooting with six rebounds and one steal. In the plus-minus category, he was a plus-15, good for third best in the game behind Durant and rookie Perry Jones III.
But what the box score didn't show were the endless hustle plays Liggins produced or the numerous floor burns he earned. The most impressive of all his plays came on an early second-half defensive possession. When the Thunder entered the half leading the woeful Bobcats by a mere four points — turning Charlotte over only twice — it was clear the game plan to start the second half was to crank up the defensive intensity. Liggins led the way. Almost single-handedly, Liggins forced a shot-clock violation, applying so much pressure on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that this year's No. 2 overall pick had no room to breathe and nowhere to turn.
“He's determined to get a stop,” Brooks said. “I like his toughness. I like his length. He's always pursuing. He never gives up on plays. He's one of those stay and play type of guys. You can never ever have enough of those guys.”
League rules, unfortunately, mandate that teams must.
Liggins wants to be the last man standing.
“We're all friends. We talk and laugh,” Liggins said of the fight to be 15th man. “But at the end of the day it's a business. I'm here for a reason.”