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Kevon Looney leads Golden State in win over Dallas Mavericks

SAN FRANCISCO — The day before Kevon Looney produced the best game of his professional career, he sat in a hallway at the Chase Center in San Francisco, reflecting on how his role had changed since Golden State took him on. was drafted in 2015.

They were a team known for their small lineups; that’s how he won a championship that year. At 6ft 9in, despite having a wingspan of over seven feet, Looney was considered undersized.

Looney chuckled at the thought, then thought about it some more.

“Sometimes it feels like a slap in the face, when they’re like, ‘They don’t have any size,'” Looney said of how people sometimes talk about Golden State. “Back in my third year, I could say we don’t have a lot of height – I’m not the tallest – but these days I’m the mid-size center, so I don’t have the feeling too small bigger man.

Looney isn’t usually the most talked about member among the Warriors. He was drafted less than two weeks after Golden State won its first championship under Steve Kerr as coach, and was on the team for four straight NBA Finals appearances and two championships. After overcoming early injuries, he became a staple on Golden State’s roster, and this year was one of five players in the league to play in all 82 regular season games.

In the playoffs this year, Golden State was able to count on him. He didn’t start in Games 1-5 of their Western Conference Semifinals series against the Memphis Grizzlies, then started and grabbed 22 rebounds in the series-winning Game 6 victory.

Friday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals series against the Dallas Mavericks, Looney scored 21 points with 12 rebounds in the 126-117 victory. It was the first time in his lone season at UCLA that he had scored more than 20 points in a game. It was also the first time a Warriors center had scored 20 points with at least 10 rebounds in the playoffs since 1977.

“We see the work he’s done to make it a reality,” Golden State guard Stephen Curry said. “Now in the playoffs, I’m just taking the next step. He brings a lot of joy to what we do in the locker room. I’ll call her, like, the muse in the locker room. He kind of just has a super demeanor about him. He is the bridge between veterans and young people. Pretty awesome to see him adapt to this role.

Kerr called Looney “everyone’s favorite guy”.

Forward Draymond Green called him a master of professionalism.

“The same professional he is today he was when he came to the league,” Green said.

Looney may have projected professionalism and level-headedness onto Green, but the truth was that when Looney was drafted he was a wide-eyed 19-year-old just trying not to break anything.

This team was riding high after their championship, and their job was to fit in, not stand out. As the only recruit, he had no one with common experiences to talk to about what it was and what he needed to do.

“It was really intimidating,” Looney said.

In July, he was in Las Vegas after taking part in the NBA Summer League tournament, where teams submit rosters of their young NBA players and prospects. The veterans of his team were in Las Vegas for a Players Union awards show, and one night Andre Iguodala texted him asking to bring donuts.

“It’s like 1 a.m.,” Looney said with a laugh. “I didn’t even know if he was serious. First day, I’m already scared. I don’t want to ruin my first day.

He attended the awards ceremony, but when the team took the stage together, he said he was too shy to join them. That coyness persisted early in the season as the team went 24-0 en route to an NBA-record 73 wins.

“They used to joke that I didn’t speak for the first six months,” Looney said.

Along with asking for 1 a.m. donut deliveries, Iguodala took Looney under his wing and helped him adjust. Green would invite Looney to hang out with him just to make him feel more comfortable in this new setting.

It helped in the locker room, but Looney would experience other challenges. He underwent hip surgery before the start of his rookie year. Then he had another hip injury in his second season.

Looney had never missed a game in college or high school and called the injuries “devastating”.

“We didn’t know what we had,” Kerr said, noting the team didn’t pick up Looney’s contract option for a fourth season because he hadn’t played much. He continued, “And then his third year, he’s having a great year, it’s like, uh oh, we could lose this guy.”

Looney was acutely aware of the questions the organization had about him, but he found solace in the support of his teammates.

“I’ve always had the respect of my teammates, and that kept me going, it made me feel good about myself and know that I’m doing the right thing,” Looney said. “Even though the fans – you might have a bad game, the fans might say you’re not good enough, someone might say you’re not good enough – but when your teammates say, like, ‘Dude I don’t “no matter what the stat lines say, I want to be out there with Loon”, that’s a big honor.

Looney was inactive throughout the playoffs for his first two seasons. But in his third season, he began to play an important role for the Warriors and helped their 2017-18 championship. He often defended the best players.

Now 26, he’s a veteran on a team that incorporated young guys who are experiencing their first playoffs. Looney knows what it was like and tries to guide them through the process.

And if Golden State wins another championship this year, it will feel a bit more special, given their contributions.

“To make an impact and start a lot of these games, playoff games, be there for the team, have big roles in the playoff moments, that’s going to mean a lot to me,” Looney said. “It will just be kind of like the icing on the cake to be able to wrap it up and win and be there for my team.”

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