The Warriors’ game against the Rockets was supposed to be a marquee matchup between the top two teams in the West. But with James Harden and Kevin Durant out due to injury, the top potentials for these teams were obviously diminished. Nevertheless, it felt like a playoff game: both teams gave it their all, and the talent on the court was still high.
Against the best teams, the Warriors’ rotation has to change, especially among the big men. Draymond Green and David West seem to be the only locks to get consistent minutes in the playoffs, while JaVale McGee seems permanently attached to the bench. The rest—Zaza Pachulia, Jordan Bell, and Kevon Looney—are possible contributors, depending on the matchups.
The Warriors would love for any one of these three to step up in the playoffs: Green and West can cover most but probably not all of the minutes at center.
Against Houston on Thursday, the plodding Zaza Pachulia wasn’t able to match the speed and athleticism of the Rockets’ offensive attack. Jordan Bell played six ineffective minutes, recording only a block and a foul. Even though he is the most talented of the three, he’ll have trouble with consistency and discipline due to inexperience.
When David West turned his ankle in the fourth quarter (he seems to be fine now), the Warriors weren’t left with many options. Enter Kevon Looney.
After a brief hot streak in November, Looney has seen inconsistent minutes since. He’s played fewer total minutes than any other rotation player, and can often become invisible in his brief minutes. But against the Rockets, he was key to the Warriors’ victory.
Looney tallied seven points, eight rebounds, and a block in less than fifteen minutes, at one point scoring three straight baskets in the fourth quarter to keep the Warriors competitive during a Rockets’ hot streak. He might even be the best offensive rebounder on the Warriors—his three boards on that end on Thursday were significant.
Kevon Looney looked pretty bouncy/quick to the rim on this dunk pic.twitter.com/sEauMHKCnY— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) January 5, 2018
Where Looney really shined, though, was defensively. The Warriors opted to switch every pick-and-roll, eliminating the motion aspects of the play but allowing the Rockets’ ballhandlers like Chris Paul and Eric Gordon to isolate on the weakest perimeter defender on the Warriors, Looney.
Looney was great: he played patiently, didn’t fall for fakes, and didn’t foul unnecessarily. He’s quicker than expected, and used his length to contest a bunch of shots.
Kevon Looney with awesome defense on Chris Paul in the iso situation and he gets the rebound too. Impressive pic.twitter.com/Q6gceMFJ6Q— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) January 5, 2018
What a smart play by Kevon Looney. CP3 had just hit a 3 on him, so next possession he refused to let CP3 shoot a 3 = CP3 misses a driving layup pic.twitter.com/5uPHyNmokL— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) January 5, 2018
After the game, Coach Steve Kerr singled out Looney as a major factor in the Warriors’ win.
No shock: Steve Kerr redirects his first question into praise for Kevon Looney, said he singled him out in locker room pic.twitter.com/ziolBneYGi— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 5, 2018
I’m still a believer in Looney playing some important minutes in the playoffs this season. He’s a fundamentally sound big man who has shown competency defending both on the perimeter and as a help defender.