How Draymond-Loon duo can be key for Warriors in West finals

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Kevon Looney did more than grab a career-high 22 rebounds as the Warriors were winning Game 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. He played a career-high 35 minutes, well beyond his comfort zone. He also provided another subtle benefit.

He also freed Draymond Green to be a more aggressive scorer, an unappreciated element the Warriors could utilize in the Western Conference finals.

Draymond wasn’t hunting shots in the 110-96 victory over the Grizzlies. That’s not his style, nor should it be, as he’s not among the team’s best shooters. But when he asserts a willingness to score it adds dimension to the offense.

Before the Warriors put Looney into the starting lineup for Game 6, Green had no choice but to use his energy battling Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. in the paint. That’s an exhaustive endeavor, but leaving the pit kills any reasonable chance of a Warriors pulling an offensive rebound.

That job in Game 6 went to Looney, perhaps the only teammate Draymond trusts to handle that task.

Coach Steve Kerr, who cleared the NBA’s COVID-mandated health and safety protocols on Sunday, watched Game 6 at home but immediately realized the difference in the offense when Green is more facile on offense.

“That was critical, for Draymond to come out shooting,” Kerr said after a light practice. “I love that 3 he took early in the game, even though he didn’t make it. I like seeing him aggressive.

“Draymond has a comfort level with Loon, even though, on paper, you look at the lack of spacing when the two of them are together. They do have a synergy that allows them to work well together.”

Draymond was losing the unwinnable war with Adams and Jackson, whose roles are to physically dominate the paint. Partnering with Looney allowed Green to expand his game. He produced 14 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. It was a fairer fight.

“They made it clear they were going to beat us up, and they were doing a good job of it,” Green said after Game 6. “Inserting Loon back into the lineup changed that”

Which brings us to the “spacing” issue alluded to by Kerr. Having two non-shooters on the floor almost always gives the defense an advantage. Draymond obviously recognized that declining shots would obstruct Golden State’s offense.

So, he adjusted and became a shooter, hoisting season-high 14 field-goal attempts. The last time he took as many shots was 30 months ago, in December 2019, when his fellow starters were D’Angelo Russell, Damion Lee, Glenn Robinson III and Willie Cauley-Stein.

That lineup, which had severe spacing challenges, was eons ago.

The lineup on the floor for Game 6 – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Green and Looney – was the one in place, health permitting, during the 2021-22 regular season. The difference was that, in this series, Green needed to put pressure on his defender, no matter who it was.

Those were the instructions from the coaching staff, though Green also understood the importance of becoming an offensive threat when paired with Looney.

“Steve is like, ‘Hey, we are going to roll with you and Loon to start, but you need to look to score.’ ” acting head coach Mike Brown said after Game 6. “Draymond was like, ‘Damn right, I'm going to look to score.’ And he did. And that was huge, because when he got the ball, they had to step up and that's where the little dump-pass to Loon was available because of his aggressiveness throughout the whole game.”

RELATED: Klay gives Looney hilarious nickname after huge Game 6

Green’s willingness and ability to score, particularly when Looney’s presence is necessary, is another weapon that barely existed for the Warriors in the regular season. And it’s an adjustment that might be needed in the conference finals.

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