OAKLAND — After receiving a second opinion and an all-clear from the team’s training staff, Golden State Warriors backup center Kevon Looney will play in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday.
Looney, who was listed as out for the remainder of the series just three days ago with a non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture, is “going to give it a go tonight,” said head coach Steve Kerr.
“He’s dying to play, and so we’ll give him a shot and see what he’s got,” Kerr said. “The guy’s just tough. He’s tough and he wants to play.”
Looney sustained the injury late in the first half of Game 2, and did not play the second half, or any of the Game 3 loss to the Toronto Raptors. He was told by team trainers that he cannot worsen his injury by playing, and was tested for pain tolerance before the game.
“Further evaluation, a second opinion and then a lot of research and making sure that there’s no long-term risk involved with him playing,” Kerr said about what went into the decision. “It all checked out.”
Looney has been one of Golden State’s best reserves during the regular season, averaging 6.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game (all career bests), but he was arguably one of Golden State’s best players overall in the playoffs.
Golden State is a net plus-12.4 with Looney on the floor this postseason — the highest on the team — and a -2.0 with him off the court for a net difference of 14.4. That’s the third-biggest positive swing on the team, behind Draymond Green and Stephen Curry.
With Looney out, the Warriors started DeMarcus Cousins, in just his third game back after a quad injury that sidelined him for more than six weeks. He’d looked good in Game 2, running on adrenaline and recording a double-double in 28 minutes. In Game 3, though, he was sluggish, inconsistent and uncomfortable against a more aggressive Marc Gasol, committing three turnovers, going 1-for-7 and posing a plus-minus of minus-12. Andrew Bogut stepped in and, after playing just two minutes in the first two games, scored six points and added three assists and seven rebounds in 22 minutes.
Looney’s return is a big boost for the Warriors in the post, where, behind Cousins and Bogut, depth was a question mark without him. Cousins will start, but Looney should get
While he has a 104.9 defensive rating in the playoffs, he’s been exceptional in defending the Toronto big men. In 43 possessions in a game and a half against Gasol, he held him to just five shots and committed just two defensive fouls. In 20 defensive possessions against Serge Ibaka, he allowed only two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
Looney’s length and athleticism have enabled him to guard multiple positions off the switch, and he’s held Kyle Lowry scoreless on five possessions, and Danny Green scoreless in four.
He also held Houston’s Clint Capela to just 12 points in 67 possessions.
Looney returns just as Klay Thompson (who, along with Looney, was listed as questionable for Friday’s game) also returns from a one-game hiatus to rest a strained hamstring.
Kevin Durant, though, is another matter. Kerr appeared tense when discussing his superstar scorer’s status. Durant, Kerr said this week, was likely to practice on Thursday and maybe play in Game 4, but on Thursday, he said he had “misspoke.” Durant is not available for Game 4, with a lingering right calf strain suffered in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
“He’s not playing tonight, we’re hoping he can play Game 5 or 6,” Kerr said. “And everything in between, I’ve decided I’m not sharing because it’s just gone haywire. There’s so much going on, and so it doesn’t make sense to talk about it. He’s either going to play or he’s not. So, tonight, he’s not playing.”
The Oracle Arena court was closed to media from 3:30 to 4 p.m., though when asked if he could clarify whether it was for either Durant or Looney to get their work in, Kerr flatly answered, “No.”