Leandro Barbosa’s NBA Finals Performance Teaches Us to Expect the Unexpected

This year’s NBA Finals would be a good fit for Malcolm Gladwell’s acclaimed book Outliers, because of the games’ unique back-and-forth and uncharacteristic performances from players on both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.

Take Leandro Barbosa for example.

Barbosa was not on anyone’s radar during the Western Conference Finals. The most he played against the Oklahoma City Thunder was 16 minutes in Game 2 and only had four points, two steals, and and two assists. Given the need to rely on players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green after the Warriors fell behind 3-1 in the series, it’s understandable why the press isn’t paying Barbosa much attention following games.

That hasn’t been the case for the NBA Finals.

In Game 1, it was all about strength in numbers for the Warriors. Shaun Livingston came off the bench and dropped 20 points, but in eleven minutes of work, Barbosa provided just as much of a spark off the bench as Livingston, finishing with 11 points, making all of his field goal attempts.

In Game 2, it wasn’t as strong of an impact, but with Curry in foul trouble in the third quarter, head coach Steve Kerr called on Barbosa to take Curry’s place on the court. Barbosa scored some points and helped on the defensive end to keep the Cavaliers at bay, while the Warriors ran away from the Cavaliers courtesy of Green and Thompson’s deadeye shots and smooth ball movement on the offensive front with Barbosa.

After Game 2, Barbosa told the San Jose Mercury News he was tired after more than 41 minutes of work in the last two games, but his impact on the Warriors’ commanding lead at the time was not unnoticed by his teammates. “He’s been huge the last two games for us,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. “He’s very quick up the court for a guy his age, still. He still has a lot of his quickness and he got some nice baskets for us in the third quarter.”

“Last series, I didn’t play very much,” Barbosa told the paper. “In this series, I’ve been having more minutes than the last one. I’m taking advantage and taking that opportunity and I’m very happy that everything is working very well.”

Much like this series, Game 3 was an outlier for Barbosa. Sure, he came off the bench and finished with eight points after 17 minutes of action, but the Warriors looked deflated as the Cavaliers dominated much of the game from tip-off, beating the Warriors in convincing fashion by a score of 120-90.

You can chalk it up to the Warriors not being in sync as the previous two games as a unit, along with Curry and Thompson being less effective in the series than they were against the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, but if there’s anything this series has shown us, it’s to expect the unexpected.

No one expected this series to be three consecutive blowouts, or to have such a heavy emphasis on strength in numbers. The Cavaliers showed that strength in Wednesday’s game, but as Barbosa and company showed in Games 1 and 2, the Warriors have all the components they need to come back guns blazing against the Cavaliers in Game 4.