Kevon Looney’s pump-fake perfection key to negating Robert Williams

BOSTON — Throughout the 2022 NBA playoffs, Warriors center Kevon Looney has seen his fair share of strong and skilled big men. There was back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic in the first round against the Denver Nuggets. The Memphis Grizzlies trio of Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke in the second round was next before facing the Dallas Mavericks, who are built more around Luka Doncic and a handful of shooters, in the Western Conference finals.

In the NBA Finals, Looney is up against perhaps his most unique opponent yet in Boston Celtics center Robert Williams, along with Al Horford. But Williams has been an absolute difference-maker against the Warriors at times, both in the regular season and through the first two games of the Finals.

He’s a lethal shot-blocker, and an elite defender that can both protect the paint and swat away 3-pointers.

“Playing against Robert has been pretty cool,” Looney said Wednesday during Warriors shootaround ahead of Game 3 at TD Garden. “I’ve played a lot of good big men, and a lot of them have been different. He might be the most athletic out of the bunch that I’ve played against. He’s probably the best shot-blocker that I’ve played Him and Jaren Jackson are both pretty elite at that.

“He’s a guy that you have to get a body on, because if you step up they’re going to throw it up and he’s gonna dunk it. It’s been pretty cool to play against him, and it’s been tough trying to get used to the athleticism of his shot-blocking.”

Williams in the Celtics’ Game 1 win blocked four shots, the same number of blocks he had when Boston blew out Golden State at Chase Center during the regular in March. That number was cut in half during the Warriors’ 19-point Game 2 win Sunday night in San Francisco. Of Williams’ six blocks so far, none have been on his counterpart.

The only time Looney’s shot has been blocked so far is once from guard Jaylen Brown in the series opener.

What’s his secret to avoid his shot getting whacked away from the 6-foot-8 Williams and his 7-foot-6 wingspan? The art of the pump fake.

Looney might be the best at it not only on the Warriors, but the entire NBA. At the very least, he’s near the top of the list. He times it perfectly, resulting in two points or a foul the majority of the time. It’s a skill he had to learn at a young age, and the veteran puts in the work to hone his craft.

“For me, a pump fake is something I had to learn pretty early in my life not being the most athletic guy,” Looney said. “Something I always try to work on, selling it. I’m slow, and the slower the pump fake, usually the better.

“So I guess that’s how I use it to my advantage.”

Over 21-plus minutes, Looney scored 12 points, his second-highest total this postseason. He was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and added seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block. The Warriors’ Reliable was a game-high plus-24.

Williams was held to only two points, two rebounds and two blocks. He was a minus-6, his worst plus-minus in four games the Warriors this season.

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With encouragement from Steph Curry and Draymond Green, Looney was inserted back into the starting lineup for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals to match up with Memphis’ maulers. He grabbed 22 rebounds, and Kerr hasn’t changed his starting lineup since.

The 26-year-old is a two-time champion looking to add a third ring to his collection. His impact has never been felt more, and his role has never been bigger. He now has six games this postseason where he has been perfect from the field, and he’s shooting 67.1 percent from the field — one pump fake at a time.

It was clear what an X-factor Williams would be going into the series. Looney time and time again has surprised countless outsiders this season, and his combination of grit and textbook fundamentals could be the eraser to slow down the Time Lord.

His effect on the Warriors’ success is evident, just as much as his flawless pump fakes.

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