Looney first in line for game ball after historic Game 6


SAN FRANCISCO – For a full three quarters Friday night, the Warriors tortured themselves, keeping the Grizzlies alive with turnovers the likes of which are expected of 9-year-olds. They could have unraveled, and probably should have.

They did not, largely because Kevon Looney, making his first start in these Western Conference semifinals – at the request of Draymond Green and Stephen Curry – would not allow it.

Which is why Looney should be first in line for a game ball after the Warriors finished off a 110-96 victory to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons.

“Kevon was possibly our MVP tonight,” Klay Thompson said. “Wow, just I'm so proud of him.”

Looney played a career-high 35 minutes, about 10 more than the Warriors have ever been comfortable with, considering his medical history. He grabbed 11 rebounds in nine first-quarter minutes; the Grizzlies, as a team, had 10. That made a statement.

“I just wanted to go after every board, especially in the beginning of the game,” Looney said. “I wanted to set the tone that it was going to be physical. That was my goal at the start of the game, so I got off to a good start.”

He snagged a career-high 22 rebounds – the highest total by a member of the Warriors in the playoffs since Larry Smith snagged 23 in 1987. In the fourth quarter, which began with Golden State holding a 78-77 lead, Looney pulled down eight rebounds – six on the offensive end. The Warriors scored 13 second-chance points in the quarter to pull away.

“Loon, man, what a game,” acting head coach Mike Brown said. “Holy moly.”

While Looney’s teammates spent the first three quarters shooting 38.2 percent and throwing passes through San Francisco’s tunnels and over its hills – 17 turnovers through three quarters – Looney was doing hard-hat work against mammoth Memphis center Steven Adams and often coming away victorious.

Looney’s labor was contagious. Green grabbed 15, Andrew Wiggins 11, Thompson eight and Curry 7. The Warriors' total of 70 rebounds, indicative of their aggression and the sub-40-percent shooting of both teams, is Golden State’s highest since 1969.

The 35 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter, speaks to Looney’s fierce determination. His competitiveness. He knows he was well beyond his usual limit, but he wouldn’t be where he is without pushing limits.

“You live for games like this, and for moments like that,” he said. “To be in a Game 6 to close it out at home, the crowd is going crazy, so you don't even think about how tired you are. You just push through it.”

Looney has been pushing through for years. It’s the story of his seven-year career, and it’s necessary to continue to chase his dreams. He has endured surgeries to repair each hip. He was diagnosed in 2019 with neuropathy, for which can be treatable but there is no cure.

His teeth have been gritted, his brow furrowed, ever since the Warriors drafted him in 2015. For Looney, this is routine.

“What's more impressive than the 22 boards is (that) I ran him 17 straight minutes and I kept looking at him because after the first five he looked like he was dying,” Brown said. “And then, the next two he looked like he was worse. I don't know if he could get any worse and every minute after that I was saying, ‘Loon, hold on, Loon, hold on.’ And he did.”

This was the third different starting lineup for the Warriors in this series. Gary Payton II started Games 1 and 2, in which he sustained a fractured elbow. He was replaced in the lineup by Jonathan Kuminga, who started Games 3, 4 and 5 without success.

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With Memphis using its muscle to rout the Warriors in Game 5, Green and Curry advocated for a move to Looney, who pushed through all 82 games in the regular season, with 80 starts.

“We just knew we needed to come out and establish an inside presence to start the game off, and not worry so much about our scoring,” Green said. “We'll figure out how to score the basketball. 

“But we needed to establish an inside presence. Because they made it clear that's what they were trying to do. They made it clear they were going to beat us up, and they were doing a good job of it. And inserting Loon back into the lineup changed that.”

A number of Warriors made huge contributions, particularly in the fourth quarter, after they shed the turnovers. Curry scored 11 points, Wiggins 10. Thompson had three blocks. Green held Jaren Jackson Jr. scoreless in the fourth.

Game balls for all. But Looney gets his first.

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