Looney, the ultimate Warrior, continues to earn his flowers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay area
SAN FRANCISO — One week from the one-year anniversary of Klay Thompson’s improbable comeback from two brutal leg injuries that took away two-and-a-half years of his prime, he gave the entire NBA world a stern reminder of who he still is and why he one day will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Thompson’s 54 points lifted the Warriors to a whirlwind 143-141 double-overtime win Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks at Chase Center. That’s the most he has scored since his return, and his second-most points of his storied career. Of course, Klay revealed in the moment and will always remember his latest epic performance.
Who ultimately played hero is what made Thompson as happy as any of his own personal glory.
Fighting for a rebound off a clanked 3-pointer from Thompson, Kevon Looney extended his right arm and tried to tip in the game-winner before the clock ran out. His first try did n’t work. Like the ultimate fighter he is, Looney grabbed his own miss, immediately put it back up off the backboard and gave Golden State its fifth straight win.
Pure pandemonium. Jordan Poole jumped on Looney. Thompson wrapped his arms around the big man, and the party was on.
“Man, he’s just indispensable for us,” Thompson said about Looney after the win. “Loon is incredible. His ability to be out there every single night, his ability to read the offense, protect the rim and rebound — I mean, 20 rebounds is not easy to do. That’s like scoring 40 in an NBA game.
“I’m just proud of the man for what he’s fought through as well. He had some injuries like myself that might have had him feeling like a shell of himself, but now he’s such a vital piece to what we do.”
Read those last two sentences again. Now read them one more time and really let it sink in.
The man saying those words is a superstar. He’s a five-time All-Star, has been named All-NBA twice and has won four titles. Yet his smile shone brightest when asked about Looney.
On the recruiting trail in Milwaukee, Looney was his own superstar. Standing at 6-foot-9, he could do it all. Looney resembling more than a point guard than a center back in those days. When the Warriors drafted him out of UCLA with the final pick in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft, they thought he might be more of a small forward or stretch-four in the pros.
Instead, he has turned into the perfect center for coach Steve Kerr’s system. Looney is instinctual and incredibly smart. Not one to feel sorry for himself or get jealous, he knows his role and plays it to perfection. He’s one of the best passing centers in the NBA, plays top-notch defense and will scratch and claw his way to as many rebounds as needed.
Against the Hawks in a game where the Warriors once led by 21 points, Looney snatched 20 rebounds for the home team. How much of that is pure will? Ten of his rebounds from him were on defense, and 10 came on the offensive glass. But like Thompson, who is more than used to the spotlight, Looney, too, had to see his career hit low points before becoming such an important piece to the defending champions.
Looney played only five games as a rookie. Health and injuries added more and more bumps on his road. In the 2019-20 season, Looney played a grand total of 20 games. That prompted the Warriors to select 7-footer James Wiseman with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, a decision that looked to fill the Warriors’ main roster hole.
The aftermath since that choice has seen Looney turn into the Warriors’ Iron Man and become a player they couldn’t live without. He changed his diet and often is the first on the practice court doing yoga to loosen his body. Monday night marked his 149th straight game played in the regular season.
“Obviously, we know what Looney brings to the team,” Draymond Green said in the Warriors’ locker room. “Twenty rebounds, always right in the middle of the fight no matter who we’re playing against or what’s going on.
“And to see him have that moment, that was a really big moment for him.”
Whether it be the AAU circuit, high school, college or his career with the Warriors, his putback at the buzzer was his first walk-off win on a basketball court. No surprise to his coaches or teammates, it came with plenty of intellect, too.
His first attempt, he admitted after the win, was rushed. Understanding body language and the reaction of those around him in the blink of an eye, Looney realized he had more time. That’s when he used every inch of his 7-foot-4 wingspan to get the ball back in his hands.
There was no panic in what he did next. It was more precision than anything else. As the ball bounced off the backboard, the pregame work he does every day, including the famed Mikan Drill, was on display. Even the celebration gave him a bit of a reflection period.
“Everybody was just excited for me and how hard I work,” Looney said. “Everybody dreams about getting a game-winner, so whenever you have a chance to do that and celebrate with your team, that’s a great moment.
“Especially a double-overtime game where everybody was exhausted. It was fun. Everybody just gave me my props and credit.”
Props, credit, whatever you want to call it. Give Looney his flowers and let that man sleep in.
The Warriors now have won five straight games, their longest streak of the season, all without starters Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins. Looney has been there the entire way, with the highs and lows of this season and his career as a whole. Each win has featured different heroes.
Thompson’s 54 points will be remembered, as they should be, and his highlights are sure to produce monster numbers. The ultimate hero of the night, however, was one who might as well be wearing a hard hat to go with his Warriors uniform — clocking in and clocking out, doing whatever the job requires for that given night.
Here’s to Kevon Looney, winner and the ultimate Warrior.