When the Warriors punched their ticket to a historic fifth straight NBA Finals with a win over the Blazers on Monday, they did so without the help of usual starters Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and DeMarcus Cousins. With some of their bigger names sidelined by injuries, Golden State sought out reinforcements and a number of NBA G League alums answered the call.
Fighting their way back from a double-digit deficit, momentum was swung in the Warriors’ direction with each passing rebound by Kevon Looney down the stretch. His physical presence helped limit second-chance opportunities by Portland and sparked many key possessions by Golden State on the other end. The big man came off the bench to grab a playoff career-high of 14 boards, to go along with 12 points. With so much offensive firepower in the backcourt, the Warriors need others to do the dirty work down low, and Looney asserts himself, all the while absorbing bumps and bruises. Regarded as a promising prospect out of college back in 2015, the youngster began to flirt with becoming the double-double threat he is today, averaging 10.5 points and 8.4 rebounds in just 19.3 minutes through sixteen assignment games with the Santa Cruz Warriors from 2015-17.
Whereas Looney’s fast track to NBA contributions was sparked by rehab in the minor league, Alfonzo McKinnie has had to grind it out a bit more amid waiting for his moment. From going undrafted, to attending NBA G League open tryouts, and playing overseas, credit Golden State for finding a diamond in the rough who also didn’t shy away from the postseason’s bright lights. In the midst of his second NBA season, the swingman received his first playoff start and added 12 points of his own. Interestingly enough, McKinnie’s contributions went well beyond his scoring skills. He was tasked with tough defensive assignments, including that of defending Damian Lillard. Helping his team set up a size mismatch, McKinnie (who played out a Two-Way Contract last season with the Raptors) proved to be up to the challenge.
The #NBAGLeague was just one of the many stops on Alfonzo McKinnie (@_Alvo_'s) journey, which has helped position him to play a big role tonight with the @warriors just 1 game away from another NBA Finals appearance!
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) May 20, 2019
Recognizing each one’s ability to come through in the clutch, perhaps Stephen Curry said it best following the victory. “We work on it all year. We set the tone in training camp and through the whole season, that they’re going to be important to what we do. Whether it’s the Western Conference Finals games 6 and 7, or the regular season, it doesn’t matter,” he pointed out. “Injuries happen: different rotations, different matchups in the playoffs. Everyone has to stay ready. I think we set that culture from the beginning, and then it manifests itself throughout the season.”
The G League Alum duo proved that they could step up to the plate and embrace even the most pressure-laden roles with big performances. Now, the NBA Finals await.