The Golden State Warriors escaped the Grizzlies and advanced through the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs by the skin of their teeth. The Dubs may have been staring down the barrel of a Game 7 in Memphis had it not been for a bold off-court decision from Steph Curry and Draymond Green.
For much of the regular season, Kevon Looney was a fixture in the Warriors starting lineup. But when the series against the Grizzlies started, defensive necessities called for other measures. Golden State chose to send out Gary Payton II, the teams best on-ball perimeter defender, in Games 1 and 2 to counter the offensive juggernaut that is Memphis point guard Ja Morant.
Unfortunately, Payton was knocked out of the series, and likely the playoffs, after a cheap shot from Dillon Brooks on a fast break in the second game of the series. A swipe across Payton’s face in mid-air as he attempted a layup sent the guard tumbling out of bounds. By the time Payton got to his feet, he had sustained a fractured elbow.
The Warriors then turned to 19-year-old rookie Jonathon Kuminga over the next three games, choosing perimeter versatility and athleticism over the size and experience of Looney. The team built a 3-1 lead before being historically embarrassed in Game 5, losing by 39 points in a contest they trailed at one juncture by as many as 55.
Heading into a pivotal Game 6 Friday night and recently bullied on the boards, the Dubs had a decision to make. Acting head coach Mike Brown said that ultimately, the choice fell to Curry and Green. They chose to start Looney, and the rest is now history.
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Dubs Stars Call For Looney to Start Game 6 Vs. Grizzlies
Brown, filling in for head coach Steve Kerr while he is away from the team due to health and safety protocols, explained how the decision to start Looney over Kuminga came to be during the postgame press conference Friday night.
Anthony Slater of The Athletic shared the video clip of Brown’s explanation on Twitter.
“It was debated a little bit but the reality of it was, it was Draymond’s call — Draymond’s and Steph’s,” Brown said.
“It’s our job to give our players confidence and they looked us all in the eye and said, ‘That’s where we’re gonna get out confidence.’ And they’ve done it before,” Brown continued. “Draymond has carried this organization for years with his hard hat. Obviously, Steph and Klay [Thompson] with their shooting, but what Draymond does, it’s unbelievable. And Steve [Kerr] is gonna roll with Draymond now matter what he says, what the outcome is.”
Rolling with Green is exactly what Kerr did and it paid off. After being out-rebounded 55-37 in a blowout loss two nights before, the Warriors ate the Grizzlies up on the glass by a tally of 70-44 in Game 6. Looney led the way with 22 boards, 11 on both offensive and defense, in what Slater went on to describe as the best game of the center’s seven-year NBA career.
Warriors Speak Out on Looney’s Big Night
Green spoke to why he pushed for Looney’s reinsertion into the lineup during the postgame media session.
“I just thought we were getting physically dominated. We were getting dominated from the start. When you look at the last eight quarters prior to this game, we got dominated in seven of them,” Green said. “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. 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.”
Looney also spoke to his big night following the victory that will send the Warriors back to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in three years. Video of his comments were shared on Twitter by the Warriors NBCS account.
“I feel great — exhausted toward the end, but I just wanted to go out there and play physical,” Looney said. “Last game we got bullied on the boards, so I wanted to go out there and do my job and set the tone from the beginning of the game.”