Monday, September 25

Kevon Looney’s star turn continues in Warriors’ epic Game 2 win over Mavericks

Loon’s star turn continues with career-best effort in Game 2 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Though the Warriors, like every other team in any other sport, place a premium on talent, a close second on their list of desirable attributes is something coach Steve Kerr refers to as “fit.” And not all talent is a “fit,” as they learned with D’Angelo Russell and Kelly Oubre Jr.

Kevon Looney is such a sublime fit for the Warriors that it offsets his talent deficiencies. Can’t run. Can’t jump. Can’t stretch the floor. Can’t score in bunches.

So, he goes out does everything else the team needs, certainly in the postseason – and particularly this postseason. On Friday night, precisely one week after perhaps his most impressive game as a Warrior, Looney was every bit as marvelous as a pivotal figure in a 126-117 victory over the Mavericks in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

With Golden State trailing by appreciable margins throughout first half and needing a third-quarter surge to prevent a series-evening loss, Looney went where he has never gone before. Into the nuclear zone, scoring 11 points in 11 minutes. No teammate had more than four points in the quarter, and the Mavericks totaled 13.

Looney’s star turn is here.

“The little kid in me is so excited, just because I grew up watching Loon,” said Jordan Poole, like Looney, a Milwaukee native. “I played against him. To see him do this on the highest stage, is just amazing to be a part of. I don’t think people understand how hard it is (for him) just to be here. And seeing the professional that he is, the way that he plays, his grit every single day, I’m so happy for him.”

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The Warriors were down 75-58 when Loon spun in a layup 46 seconds into the second half. The seventh-year big man’s dunk as the quarter buzzer pulled them within two, 85-83.

Not once in his career – regular season or playoffs – had Looney taken more than 12 shots in a game; he took 14. Not once had he made more than seven goals; he hit 10. Not once had he scored more than 19 points in a game; he poured in 21. His touch was soft, his confidence high.

“I improved a lot this year, learning about angles and how to roll off defenders and different things like that,” Looney said. “I’ve grown a lot in that area. In high school, you just catch and dunk. But in the NBA, you have a lot of guys that are athletic and can meet you up top and you have to work on your touch. It’s something I’ve been working on. I’ve been getting a lot better, and it’s been paying off for me.”

Looney’s last two buckets came in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, the second of which put the Warriors ahead for good.

Not once had Looney been requested for a postgame interview in a national TV game, yet there he was, on the court answering questions from TNT’s Allie LaForce.

Those “M-V-P” chants at Chase Center? For Looney, at the free-throw line.

“That was nerve-racking,” Looney said through his gap-tooth grin. “I haven’t shot a free throw in a game in like three weeks. I tried to focus on making the free throw. It was a cool moment for me. I made the free throws, so that was even better.”

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Looney also did his usual job, setting effective screens, playing solid-to-wonderful defense – consistently rebuffing attempts to target him – pulling a game-high 12 rebounds, recording a pair of assists and being responsible for none of his team’s 16 turnovers.

The M-V-P chants were hyperbole, yes, but such an outpouring of love and appreciation is justified.

There was Looney on May 13, pulling down career-high 22 rebounds, including 11 on offense, and playing a career-high 32 minutes in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals as the Warriors ousted the Grizzlies.

And there he was again in Game 2 against Dallas, turning the game toward the Warriors.

“He’s had a fantastic playoff run,” Kerr said. “He’s incredibly underrated by everybody. He switches onto guards, and he rebounds. He sets screens. And in a series like this, it’s so spread out, he’s able to score some buckets in the paint as well. Loon was just brilliant.”

In a league where defenses often switch, on a team that usually switches, Looney has excelled in that rare and very valuable commodity as one of the best big men in the NBA at meeting that difficult task.

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When Dallas star Luka Doncic targeted Looney several times, it was apparent that the Warriors, players and coaches, place plenty of trust in what will occur on Looney Island.

Having inspired such trust is perhaps the biggest requirement for “fit.” It is, above all, why Looney is so integral to the fabric of the Warriors.

Looney will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Can sign with any team he likes. He wants to spend his career with the Warriors. They already know he’s a fabulous “fit.” And they ought to realize how valuable that is.

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