Looney proves he’s one of the best centers in the NBA by winning Game 7

Looney proves he's one of the best centers in the NBA by winning Game 7

SACRAMENTO — Two points down before halftime, Sunday opened the third quarter at the Golden 1 Center with a defensive rebound from Kevon Looney. On the other side of the court, Steph Curry gave the Warriors a one-point lead with a step-back 3 pointer.

The Sacramento Kings lead the rest of the way was a minute and 17 seconds into the second half when two free throws by Kevin Huerter gave them a 61-59 lead. The Warriors dominated the final 22+ minutes on their way to a 20-point Game 7 win over the Kings on the backs of Curry and Looney.

One has already proven himself to be a great player of all time and only added to his legacy with a historic 50-point performance. The other quietly dusts off his competition and smiles at everyone else who gets headlines and awards.

“I think Loon is one of the best centers in the league,” said Steve Kerr after the Warriors’ win. “I really do. People don’t recognize him because he doesn’t dive and shoot threes and all that stuff. But this guy is an absolute winner and he’s a machine.

“We wouldn’t be here without him.”

Looney averaged a career-high points this season, his eighth as a pro with the Warriors. With 7.0 points per game, he also finished eighth in his own team. He played all 82 regular-season games and finished with 68 dunks, none of which exactly made highlight reels on social media platforms.

He took a 3-point ball in a 24-point blowout win, and he didn’t zip through the net.

And none of that matters. He’s a combination of old-school, relentless hard work, grinding for rebounds, and thriving on all the little things that go into winning. He’s also a combination new-school, stands as a 6-foot-9 center that bodies taller players and works as a playmaker outside of the post and outside of pick-and-rolls.

Sunday’s first-round conclusion, which was a heavyweight fight in all seven games, was turned around in the third quarter. Looney scored two points during that period, with Curry scoring 14. Both were potentially equally important as the Warriors outscored the Kings 35-23 and held a 10-point lead over fourth.

In the first two quarters, Looney had eight rebounds. He came down on 10 in the third quarter alone, including seven on the offensive glass. The Kings attempted five more shots than the Warriors in the first half, and the Warriors shot ten more than the Kings in the third quarter, thanks in large part to Looney.

“It all started with Kevon,” said Draymond Green. “…Where it started with Loon dominating the glass. Once we dominated the glass, we were able to show how good our defense was. Once we did that, it allowed us to put our offense on good offensive possessions got and we connected the game together.

“Kevon Looney was huge.”

The Warriors had a 14-rebound advantage in the third quarter, grabbing 23 compared to just nine from the Kings. Golden State also had 13 offensive rebounds in game three, the most by any team for a quarter, regular season, or playoffs in the past 20 years. As a team, the Warriors had 33 rebounds in the second half.

The kings had 21.

Looney himself had 13 boards in the second half. His counterpart, Kings All-Star center Domantas Sabonis, had three.

“That’s what makes it fun,” Looney said. “When you’re doing all the hard work, pushing and pushing and getting elbowed, doing whatever it takes to create extra possession for your team and see them take a shot and change momentum – that’s just a great feeling.

“I know it helps us win. I live for these moments.”

There was a lot of talk early in the series about the size advantage the Kings had, especially with Sabonis on their side. Green would try his hand at 7-footer, but not the whole game. Nobody predicted that the Warriors would have an advantage at depth.

In reality, Looney completely surpassed someone likely destined for an All-NBA team.

Over the course of the seven-game streak, Looney grabbed 29 more rebounds than Sabonis in 32 fewer minutes. Sabonis averaged 11.0 rebounds, 77 overall. Looney averaged 15.1 rebounds and rallied 106 overall. Recall that Sabonis was the NBA’s rebound leader during the regular season, averaging 12.3 per game — three more than Looney’s 9.3 average.

Before Game 5 in Sacramento, Sabonis was honored for his rebounding title and ratcheted up his accolade to the delight of Kings fans. What happened next was the Warriors outlived the Kings and Looney was a plus-8 with 22 rebounds. Sabonis was a minus-1 with 10 rebounds.

It all boiled down to Game 7. Looney saved his best for last and gave the Warriors a double-double with 11 points and 21 rebounds. He was up 22 after snapping 11 defensive rebounds and 10 offense. Sabonis, who had 22 points with eight rebounds, was down 22.

RELATED: Curry saves warriors with incredible performance against kings

So much faced the Warriors. A continuation of a dynasty or an off-season full of question marks. Your superstar was a superstar. Her Venus flytrap frustrated the kings one last time, one rebound after another.

Looney became the third warrior with 20 or more rebounds three or more times in a single playoff series, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond. He’s the first player since Dwight Howard in 2008 to achieve this feat. The first two names are Hall of Famers, and Howard makes a strong case for wearing an orange jacket one day, too.

Overcoming too many trials and tribulations to count, Looney is more than a good story. He is an elite center who has established himself as one of the key contributors to the Warriors being all they are as winners and ultimately champions.

There’s only one Steph Curry. Luckily for the Warriors, there’s only one Kevon Looney.

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