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January 22, 2023

BOSTON — Throughout the 2022 NBA Playoffs, Warriors center Kevon Looney has seen his fair share of strong, 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 were next before facing the Dallas Mavericks, who are built more around Luka Doncic and a handful of shooters, in the final of the Western Conference.

In the NBA Finals, Looney faces perhaps his most unique opponent yet at Boston Celtics center Robert Williams with Al Horford. But Williams was the difference maker at times against the Warriors, both in the regular season and in the first two games of the Finals.

He’s a deadly shot blocker and elite defender who can both protect the paint and eliminate 3-pointers.

“Playing Robert was pretty cool,” Looney said Wednesday during the Warriors shootout before Game 3 at TD Garden. “I’ve played a lot of good big men, and a lot of them have been different. He’s maybe the most athletic in the group I’ve played against. He’s probably the best shot blocker I’ve played against. have played against so far He and Jaren Jackson are both pretty elite at that.

“He’s a guy you have to have a body on, because if you interfere, they’re going to throw him and he’s going to dunk him. It was pretty cool to play against him, and it was hard 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 blasted Golden State at Chase Center during regular in March. That number was halved in the Warriors’ 19-point Game 2 win Sunday night at 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 by guard Jaylen Brown in Game 1 of the series.

What’s his secret to keeping his shot from being missed by the 6-foot-8 Williams and 7-foot-6 wingspan? The art of the faux pump.

Looney is perhaps the best not only in the Warriors, but in the entire NBA. At the very least, it’s near the top of the list. He times the clock perfectly, resulting in a two-pointer or a foul most of the time. It’s a skill he had to learn at a young age, and the veteran is doing everything he can to perfect his craft.

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

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

In more than 21 minutes, Looney scored 12 points, his second-highest total in the playoffs. He was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and added seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. The Warriors’ Mr. Reliable was a plus-24 record.

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

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With encouragement from Steph Curry and Draymond Green, Looney was reinserted into the starting lineup for Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals to face the 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. Its impact has never been more felt and its role has never been greater. He now has six playoff games where he’s been perfect from the field, and he’s shooting 67.1% from the field — one pump at a time.

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

His effect on the Warriors’ success is evident, as are his flawless fake push-ups.

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