HOUSTON -- Though each member of the Warriors’ big-man platoon adds something to the brew that has kept them atop the NBA for the better part of four seasons, it’s easy to forget, or even ignore, Kevon Looney.
He doesn’t soar above the rim, like Jordan Bell or JaVale McGee.
He doesn’t go to All-Star games like Kevin Durant or Draymond Green.
He doesn’t offer menace or metronomic production like David West.
No, Looney is about as unadorned as an NBA player can be on a championship-level squad. He’s a reliable primer-gray pickup of a player, accent on “reliable.”
Consider Thursday night in Houston, where Warriors coach Steve Kerr, to mild surprise, turned to Looney in the second quarter and liked what he saw.
“He was inactive the other night and I don’t know how many minutes he’s played over the last month,” Kerr said after a 124-114 victory over the Rockets.
“But he does his work every single day and knows the game plan and is one of the smartest players on our team,” the coach added. “And comes in, in a big setting, and just preforms beautifully.”
The timing was impeccable. Durant was unavailable. McGee was available but unused. Bell, the sensational youngster who pushed McGee to the deep end of the bench, was limited to six first-quarter minutes because he too often looked the part of the rookie he is. West opens the second and fourth quarters and almost never goes beyond that. Green was busy compiling a triple-double.
So Looney it was.
Kerr was rewarded with seven points (on 3-of-4 shooting and a free throw), a career-high-tying eight rebounds, a blocked shot and some audacious and cagey defense against skilled Houston guards who sized up Looney and presumed him exploitable when the Warriors switched on defense.
They were wrong, spectacularly so. Looney maintained defensive position, wasn’t flummoxed by quickness and, in the fourth quarter, with the game still in the balance, cleverly coaxed an offensive foul on Chris Paul.
“I was surprised,” Looney said. “I usually don’t get any calls. So when he tried to hook me, I tried to get my hands out of there so I didn’t get called for a foul and get yelled it. It went my way this time.
“It’s tough out there being on an island. But when guys are behind you talking -- I know we’ve got people like Draymond (Green) and Andre (Iguodala) behind me -- there’s a lot more confidence.”
Green was not surprised that Looney, who is 6-foot-9 but has a 7-4 wingspan, held up so well on defense.
“He’s shown all year that he can guard anyone,” Green said. “He can guard guards with his length. He can move really well laterally and, most importantly, he’s really smart.”
How effective was Looney? He was part the closing lineup, playing the final 6:30 of the game. He was plus-7 in his 15 minutes.
And this was coming after he had not played a minute in either of the last two games. Looney averaged seven minutes in December and this was just the second time in six weeks he exceeded 13 minutes.
There are reasons for that. Looney’s career seemed in jeopardy only three months ago. The Warriors, uncertain about the future of someone who has undergone surgery on both hips, declined to pick up the option for next season.
At 21, the youngest member of the Warriors, Looney responded by getting in the best shape of his life.
“He’s a pro,” Green said. “He’s earned minutes throughout the course of this year. For his option not to get picked up, for him to stay the course and play the way he’s played. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, he’s earned himself a job. To be inactive a few games ago and then come out in this game and play the way he played was huge and I’m extremely proud of him.”
Even if Looney doesn’t leave the bench Saturday when the Warriors face the Clippers in Los Angeles, he’ll always know he was on the floor when the Warriors, without Kevin Durant, finished off their primary competition in the Western Conference.
“There was really good execution down the stretch, great defense,” Kerr said. “I went in the locker room and praised everybody. I could have gone around the room individually and told every single guy ‘great game,’ but I singled out Looney. I thought it was an amazing example of what being a professional is about.”