For 80 of the season’s 82 regular-season games, Kevon Looney started at center for the Golden State Warriors. He spent half the season as the team’s only real center, manning the post defensively despite standing 6’9”, while Draymond Green, Otto Porter Junior, and Nemanja Bjelica were in and out of the lineup, and James Wiseman never joined. And Looney never complained, even when the Warriors benched him for lineups featuring an extra guard or a teenage power forward. Last night, upon instructions from interim head coaches Steph Curry and Draymond Green, Looney returned to the starting lineup for the Warriors’ biggest game of the season and simply had the biggest game of his career. 22 rebounds, 11 of them offensive, five assists (three of which led to made three-pointers), and four big points as the Warriors held off the frenetic Memphis Grizzlies 110-96, and advanced to the Conference Finals.
Klay Thompson led the team with thirty points in another legendary Game Six performance in a postseason career that’s full of them. He made eight three-pointers, including his first five attempts in the first half, and his final triple, coming after Looney rebounded two straight Curry misses, put the Warriors up 105-92 and effectively ended the game with 2:58 to go.
It was also a defensive comeback for Klay, who put up three big blocked shots and got in Dillon Brooks’ face after he flagrantly fouled Steph Curry, resulting in double technical fouls for Brooks and Klay. It was a wild play that also sent the Grizzlies’ Steven Adams to the locker room for the rest of the half after he landed awkwardly.
We got the whole Dillon Brooks experience tonight - a barrage of threes, a dirty foul, lots of trash talk, and a lot of angry shots. Brooks scored 18 points in the first half and hit five three-pointers, nearly matching Klay Thompson, and stole the ball three times, often when a Warriors guard drove at Steven Adams, leapt in the air, and fired the ball blindly toward the three-point arc. He finished with 30 points, but took 28 shots, and got into it with both Thompson and Poole at different points. Ultimately, his biggest contribution to the Grizzlies this series was breaking Gary Payton II’s elbow.
Desmond Bane was the Grizzlies’ best player tonight, scoring 25 points and grabbing seven rebounds, showing no signs of the back injury that slowed him earlier in the series. Jaren Jackson Jr. kept a lot of shots from going in, but on both ends, blocking four Warriors attempts and missing 14 shots of his own, including six threes. He also only had four rebounds despite being taller than every player on the Warriors roster. Jackson was one of only three Grizzlies in double figures, as Warriors-killer Brandon Clarke had a rough game, shooting 2-10, and grabbing four offensive rebounds but zero defensive boards. DeAnthony Melton hit a buzzer-beater and had eight points on six shots, but only played 11 minutes.
Steph Curry was again the NBA’s greatest closer down the stretch, with 11 points and three three-pointers in the final six minutes. He and the Warriors overcame a flood of turnovers early - they had 17 for the game, but none in the 4th - to come back on a very tough Memphis team missing Ja Morant. He shot 6-17 from behind the arc and 10-27 overall, but made them when it counted, including a long 31-footer and a stepback three that sandwiched Klay’s triple in a 9-0 run that put the game away late.
The Warriors took the lead for good with 6:29 to go when Andrew Wiggins sank a late three off a Looney assist. He then took the ball down for a layup after Brooks dribbled off his foot, and the Dubs had a three-point lead. After a frustrated Brooks bricked a layup, Curry hit a three, Draymond dunked off another Looney dish, and the 10-run gave Golden State a 97-89 lead.
Wiggins struggled in the first half, shooting just 1-8, though he grabbed five rebounds. He was huge part of the team rebounding effort that led to 70 rebounds, which is the most boards any team has had in a playoff game since 1983. Look, it’s not the size of the dog on the block, it’s the size of the blocking out in the dog. I think that’s a Big Dog t-shirt.
One reason why Wiggins may have struggled early was his extremely aggressive defense on Grizzlies’ point guard Tyus Jones, who killed the Warriors in Games 4 and 5. Last night, Jones scored seven points on 2-12 shooting.
And in the second half, Wiggins was the best player on the court. He scored 15 points on 6-8 shooting, nailing all three of his attempts behind the arc, grabbing six rebounds, blocking two shots, and taking a steal in for a dunk.
That monster 21-3 run sealed the game, and no, the Grizzlies can’t blame K-Pop fans for Wiggins going off.
It was a game full of huge runs on both sides. The Warriors had a 10-0 run in the first quarter which even included two Draymond Green shots. Draymond came out very aggressive, driving and pushing the pace early, and finishing with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists. In Game 1-5 he was 10-17 from the field. In Game 6? 6-14, almost doubling his attempts for the whole series beforehand. He also had four turnovers, sometimes passing into double teams while Memphis refused to guard him, but besides me, who’s counting turnovers?
The Warriors took a nine-point lead early in the second quarter as Klay continued to bomb threes, and then Memphis erased it with a 7-0 run. They got the lead back up to seven, and Memphis responded with a 14-0 run, thanks to a series of blocked shots and an unsuccessful challenge to a Damion Lee foul that still makes no sense. Maybe Mike Brown was trying to stop a run, but it seemed rather early to spend their one challenge to save a foul on a guy who was playing 11 minutes.
Memphis didn’t score for the last 4:26 of the half, and the Warriors finished on a 9-0 run, that should have been so much more had the Dubs not continued to compulsively throw the ball out of bounds. They led 53-51 at the break, despite 11 three-pointers and 39 rebounds. Throwing the ball away 11 times and shooting 28% on two-pointers will do that.
Desmond Bane and Klay Thompson dueled in the third quarter - 11 for Bane, 10 for Klay, two three-pointers each - and the teams went into the final frame just one point apart. But ultimately, the eight rebounds from the man they call Ground-Bound Mound of Rebound (OK, it’s just me) were too much in the final frame. Looney had the most rebounds by any Warriors in a playoff game since Larry Smith in 1987 and the adulation of a whole contingent of young people, who he’s inspired to learn to box out and throw two-handed fundamentally-sound bounce passes.
Damion Lee, Nemanja Bjelica, and Jordan Poole were the entire bench rotation in a game where Coach Brown leaned hard on the starters, Tom Thibodeau-style. Poole had 12 points in 24 minutes, going 2-11 from three-point range and again getting walloped by a Grizzly, although this time he actually drew a foul. Lee and Bjelica weren’t great, but totally adequate. Lee made up for a terrible pick-two interception he threw to Ziaire Williams by coming back with a three-pointer, and drawing an offensive foul from Kyle Anderson, who was Down Low Too Slow Mo Anderson in Game 6, not shooting at all in his 10+ minutes. Belli joined the offensive rebound campaign in the first half, nabbing two offensive boards and turning them into two assists.
In their first Conference Finals since 2019, the Warriors await the winner of Suns-Mavericks before they learn who they’ll play on Wednesday night. Will it be longtime enemy Chris Paul, along with Devin Booker, the player Draymond Green said was too good for Phoenix? Or will it be Warriors killer Luka Doncic and new coach Jason Kidd, avenging the Warriors move away from his native East Bay? All we know is Kevon Looney better be in the starting lineup for that first game.