Looney calls the tune for warriors

Tactical switch pays off as the centre grabs 22 boards to help Golden State make West Finals

SAN FRANCISCO • After advancing to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2019, the Golden State Warriors called the feat "special".

One of the greatest dynasties in league history, the team reached the Finals from 2015 to 2019, taking home three championships along the way.

They have spent the previous two seasons in transition but now have a roster ready to compete for the title again.

Their 110-96 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday in Game 6 of their Western Conference semi-finals in San Francisco not only closed out the series 4-2 but also came with a tactical switch.

After their blowout loss in Game 5, Golden State decided to start Kevon Looney for the first time this series, after admitting that they needed more size to counter Memphis' front court of Jaren Jackson Jr and Steve Adams.

The re-insertion of the 2.06m centre into the line-up was critical to the win. He grabbed a career-high 22 rebounds - half were offensive boards - allowing the Warriors' backcourt of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry to flourish.

Thompson had a game-high-tying 30 points, Curry added 29 and Andrew Wiggins, whose three-pointer with 6min 29sec remaining gave the hosts the lead for good, contributed 18.

Afterwards, Thompson paid tribute to his less-heralded teammates in Looney and Wiggins.

"Kevon should go by Kevon Olajuwon," the guard said. "Because he was really just a freak out there. The guy has like elastic arms. He can just stretch.

"Andrew was special. He made some huge threes for us, huge buckets, double-double, great defence. He has been such a great player for us. He makes an impact on both sides of the ball every night. We would not be where we are at without Andrew."

Draymond Green, who had 14 points for the Warriors, added: "We just knew we needed to come out and establish an inside presence to start the game off, and not worry so much about our scoring.

"They (Memphis) made it clear they were going to beat us up, and they were doing a good job of it. And inserting Loon back into the line-up changed that."

The Warriors will now face either the top-seeded Phoenix Suns or fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the West Finals.

Game 7 today will decide the outcome of that series and Golden State are relishing the opportunity to make more history.

"It's unbelievable knowing what we've been through these last few years, and six out of the last eight, and now we have an opportunity to play for the Finals," Curry said.

"Never take it for granted and understand this is what it's all about, and then for us to have another opportunity to get four more wins and play for a trophy, that's special."

In the East, the Boston Celtics stayed alive with a 108-95 victory over NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks to tie their semi-final series at 3-3. With his team facing elimination, Jayson Tatum came through, hitting seven of his team's 17 three-pointers and scoring a total of 46 points.

It helped the Celtics withstand a 44-point, 20-rebound display from 2021 Finals Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, who became the first player since Shaquille O'Neal in the 2000-01 season to post those statistics in a play-off game.

"Our season was on the line," Tatum said. "I knew that and we knew that. We had to give it all we've got."

Game 7 in Boston today will decide who gets to play the Miami Heat, the top seeds in the East, for the chance to move to the Finals.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2022, with the headline Looney calls the tune for warriors. Subscribe