In each of the first three games of the NBA Finals, Kevon Looney saw progressively fewer minutes. Then, as Game 4 was about to begin, the big man from Golden State was replaced in the starting lineup. It looked like Warriors coach Steve Kerr had left Looney.
But once the game started, the seventh-year UCLA center showed what a difference he could make on the court.
Looney entered Friday’s game at 7:23 for Otto Porter Jr., who had started in his place. Over the next four minutes, Looney grabbed five rebounds. He finished the match with 11 boards and 6 points in 28 minutes, with a plus-minus of +21. His performance in Game 4 took his final plus-minus to +36 – the highest of any player in the series – and helped seal the victory for the Warriors.
Throughout the 2022 playoffs, Looney has been an invaluable part of Golden State’s most dependable roster, continuing that trend against a loaded Boston Celtics frontline in the Finals. Looney’s unit of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins keeps the Celtics shooting just 39.0 percent over 36 minutes overall, according to NBA Advanced Stats.
|Minutes||Bounce percentage||Defensive rating||Net score|
|Looney on the ground||155||58.3%||98.4||+19.1|
|Looney off the field||212||47.6||117.1||+0.9|
But just eight of those minutes came in Golden State’s Game 3 loss to Boston, in which the Warriors doubled in runs scored from the paint (52-26). Golden State had just 31 rebounds — the team’s second-lowest in 125 playoff games under Kerr — and was topped by 16.
“They shoved us in our rotations – lots of long rebounds,” Looney said after Game 3. . We’ve got guys running around, shoving each other around and putting so much pressure on the rim that our rotations kind of got messed up, so [we] I just have to do a better job keeping the ball too.
Without Looney on the field in the Finals, Celtics center Robert Williams III roamed a bit more freely. Although Williams played more minutes with Looney in the game than without him, Williams has more than twice as many points and almost twice as many rebounds when Looney sits.
Boston scored just 15 total points on Williams’ 30 touches when guarded by Looney in the Finals, according to Second Spectrum, and 28 of those touches resulted in an assist or turnover. As a team, the Celtics have a 37.9 effective field goal percentage with Looney as the closest defenseman (the lowest of any defenseman in this series), much of which is a byproduct of versatility. of Looney as a rim protector and perimeter defender.
His ease playing drop coverage helps limit Williams’ rolls to the edge, like here at the end of the last frame of Game 4. Looney anticipated the pick and roll before piling Williams in at the 3-point line, where Williams rushed a pass to a cutting Jayson Tatum, who missed a clumsy layup attempt.
Even on offense, Looney’s size helps Golden State battle Boston’s defensive system. Looney assisted with a series-high 46 points per screen in the final – 27 more than the combined totals of Williams and Al Horford. Between his picks and his dribbling, he was instrumental in the Warriors’ pursuit of points against the league’s best defense.
While the Splash Brothers’ ground spacing and Green’s knack for filling other gaps remain crucial to the Warriors’ offense, Thompson (45.5 effective field goal percentage, second-worst among rotation players team) and Green (18 fouls committed, 17 runs scored) struggled to help Curry carry the charge. In Game 4, Curry joined Kevin Durant (2018) as the only Warriors in the past 50 years to record a 40-point, 10-rebound playoff game, but very few of those points came easy.
Looney helped with that. Late in the second quarter, Looney freed Curry for a timely opportunity and one via screen as Steph broke free from a pursuing Derrick White.
The third quarter remains where Golden State shines, and Looney’s height played a key role in the Warriors’ 58-43 second-half win over the Celtics on Friday, in which they held a two-man advantage. numbers on the glass.
Here’s Looney freeing Curry via another pick before rolling to the rim for a bucket. His paint footwork allowed him to pump Williams and bring Golden State within 3 points midway through the third quarter.
Later in Game 4, Looney gave Green a safety valve around the basket as Curry double-teamed. In the Warriors’ 28 minutes with Looney on the court in Game 4, they outscored the Celtics by 12 points from the paint, while they were outscored by 6 in that area during his 20 minutes on the bench.
Without the adjustment to play better against the size of Boston, Golden State could very well be faced with the daunting task of overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. Looney’s ability to help the team simply control possessions and break free for a clean look could decide what is now a best-of-three series.
“Loon just grew by leaps and bounds this year,” Kerr said after Game 4. “He’s been really good to us over the years. where he is simply… irreplaceable to us.
“He’s played every game and he’s a guy you rely on. I didn’t play him enough in Game 3. It was my mistake, so it was important to get him out, and he had a huge impact on the game.
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