Before Friday’s decisive Game 6, Golden State Warriors veterans Steph Curry and Draymond Green came to a decision — veteran big man Kevon Looney needed to be back in the starting lineup.
Acting head coach Mike Brown went with the veterans, inserting Looney in the starting lineup for the first time in six games and taking out rookie Jonathan Kuminga. It was a decision that now has the Warriors headed back to the Western Conference Finals.
Looney turned in a dominant performance in Friday’s closeout game, grabbing a career-high 22 rebounds including 11 on the offensive side as Brown used the veteran to counter the Memphis Grizzlies’ size. Looney added four points and five assists in what is being heralded as the biggest game of his career.
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Looney’s Big Game
Ahead of the May 13 game, Brown said he wanted to go back to Looney to match the size and physical play from Grizzlies center Steven Adams, who moved off the bench and into the starting lineup after Ja Morant went down with a knee injury.
Though Looney started 80 games in the regular season, he had fallen deeper into the rotation in the playoffs and had been out of the starting lineup since Game 4 of the opening round. The rookie Kuminga had started the previous three games, but Brown instead went with Looney, who before Friday was averaging 5.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in the second round.
“To have a big body out there to help out every once in a while, we have to figure out ways to keep him on the floor and help us out,” Brown told reporters before the game, via NBC Sports Bay Area.
Looney rewarded Brown’s decision, dominating the glass all night and turning it up when it mattered the most. Looney’s rebounds — including three on the offensive end in the final five minutes — helped the Warriors close out the game on a 23-7 run, turning an 89-87 deficit into a 110-96 victory.
As The Athletic’s Anthony Slater noted, every one of those rebounds in the final minutes led to a key play for the Warriors.
“Kevon Looney’s 19th rebound of the night was a putback,” Slater tweeted. “His 20th rebound of the night got an extra possession. His 21st rebound of the night led to that Klay Thompson 3. Biggest game of Looney’s career.”
Warriors Vet Opens Up on Monster Game
After the game, Looney said he wanted to respond to the physicality that Memphis had shown in a blowout win in Game 5. In the 134-95 drubbing, the Grizzlies dominated the boards, outrebounding the Warriors 55-47 including an 18-4 advantage in offensive rebounds.
“I feel great, exhausted toward the end but I just wanted to go out there and play physical,” Looney said after the game. “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.”
Thanks to Looney’s career-best performance, the Warriors flipped the script in Game 6. Golden State outrebounded the Grizzlies 70-44, which ESPN noted made them the first team with 70 rebounds in a playoff game since the San Antonio Spurs grabbed 75 against the Denver Nuggets on May 4, 1983.
The Warriors will now have a few days to rest before moving on to the Western Conference Finals. Game 1 is slated for Wednesday against the winner of the Dallas/Phoenix series. If the Mavericks win, Game 1 will be in San Francisco, while the Warriors would take to the road to play the Suns if they prevail.