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It’s about time the basketball world embraced the gospel of Kevon Looney

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We are entering the epoch of Kevon Looney, folks.

Friday was a third-straight sterling night from the Warriors’ big man, who has now set career highs in rebounds (22 against the Grizzlies in Game 6) and points (21 on Friday night) in two of the last three games.

His 21 points and 12 rebounds are the first 20 and 10 line for a Warriors center in the playoffs since Robert Parish in 1977. That’s some damn good company.

It’s hard not to make jokes about Looney given his low-key temperament. When he has games like he had Friday, and Wednesday, and the Friday before there’s a level of surprise.

Looney’s never been a stat sheet stuffer. He works hard, does everything right, and provides a level of intelligence coupled with physicality that makes him a perpetually positive influence on the game.

But because he’s never been flashy on or off the court, there’s a tendency for him to be relegated to the status of secondary character.

Some of that is understandable. He’s on a team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They added Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins.

There are so many flashier pieces on this roster. And after a 2019-20 season which was derailed by a neuropathic condition, and some injuries in the ensuing year, there were questions of whether Looney would ever continue his upward trajectory let alone his career.

But lo and behold, Looney was the Warriors’ iron man this season. He is the only player to play in every single game for them, and his impact has never been as outsized as it is now.

He won the Warriors that Game 6, which everyone tacitly understood was a must-win, whether or not the Grizzlies were getting Ja Morant back in Game 7. The Warriors couldn’t go back to Memphis.

Looney, with 22 rebounds split evenly over both ends, set the tone and sparked the Warriors to an NBA high this season of 70 rebounds, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the 80s.

It was a Dennis Rodman-esque performance, except Looney’s not anywhere near the athlete that Rodman was. He’s clever with his physicality, his angles and timing in a way that can’t properly be explained.

When he’s on like he was in that Game 6, and like he has remained in the ensuing two games, it’s captivating.

In a game defined ever increasingly by speed and shooting, it is deeply refreshing to slam a team with old man, YMCA-style physicality.

It feels like Looney deserves a nickname — the YMCAnimal is the best I could come up with — but his matter-of-factness belies that he probably wouldn’t feel comfortable embracing that.

He is extraordinary in his “just another day at the office” approach, even as he’s in the midst of arguably the greatest stretch of his professional career.

Looney cited his father, Doug, as creating his foundation as a professional.

“From my dad really growing up, watching him work seven days a week and never complain about nothing,” Looney said. “Just go to work, clock in, clock out, and come home and still always have time for me and the family. It was something that I learned from him, how to be a professional.”

He’s a guy that just goes about his business, doing every single thing he’s needed to do.

There’s the tact in the screens the Warriors run to catch defenders off for that extra half second that the likes of Curry or Poole need to drive or set up a step back. He’s grown ever more capable in defending every type of player.

There are very few players in the league where you’d say Looney couldn’t handle them, and it’s created problems for Luka Doncic — yes, even when he drops 42 points — at least in terms of persistently pressuring him and making playmaking more difficult.

And when he gets an offensive rebound or finds himself in the post, there’s a real capability in facilitating. He’s found Draymond Green cutting to the hoop on myriad occasions over the past few games.

Then on nights like Friday, when he’s the one true big man on the floor and a team like the Mavericks doesn’t have the size, capability or the will to shut him down, he is clever enough both from a basketball IQ standpoint and as a finisher to tally 21 points.

The last time Looney scored 20-plus points was on January 8, 2015 for UCLA, when he dropped 27 and 19 on Stanford. That’s an absurd line, but with the way he’s playing right now, it’s not out of the question for him to find a tally like that.

All of that work, the hustle, the old school, “I’m not quicker than you, but I want it more than you” effort that Looney has shown from the moment he got into this league is appreciated by Golden State fans.

After he drove to the hoop for an and-1, this happened.

It wasn’t subtle. Not a few random fans meme-chanting in appreciation. It was genuine. It wasn’t a Curry-level chant, but for a rotational, vertically-challenged center to get earnest MVP chants in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals?

If you can’t appreciate that, you don’t appreciate basketball.

His teammates were effusive with praise as usual, with Jordan Poole waxing poetic about how he grew up watching Looney, a fellow Milwaukee native.

Curry said he calls him “The Muse,” saying that Looney bridges the gap between the veterans he learned from and the young cohort still growing into the league.

Steve Kerr made sure to single him out.

After the game, Looney said he’s never felt under-appreciated, at least by folks in the Bay. He layered his answer, as usual, with humility.

“I feel honored just to be a part of the ride,” Looney said. “I don’t really feel left out. The Bay fans always show me love. When I check in the game they always show me a good ovation.”

It’s time for folks outside the Bay to recognize that Looney, with all his brain, brawn and guile, is a legitimate force who has to be accounted for and has the ability to wreck games in the postseason.

 

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