SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors didn’t waste The Kevon Looney Game, nor any time flipping the switch and the Mavericks in the process. Here are five takeaways from Golden State’s 126-117 victory in Game 2 as it moved two wins away from the NBA Finals.
1. Kevon was on
Let’s give the man the applause he deserves. Kevon Looney, from start to finish, was the most valuable player on the floor for the Warriors. That’s when you take into account his inside buckets, rebounding, his role in triggering the comeback with a big third quarter, and how he took up the slack when Draymond Green developed foul trouble (and eventually fouled out). Were those really M-V-P chants he heard in the second half? Sure was.
And let’s take it a step further: Looney’s having a solid postseason run, which includes a 22-rebound game in the Memphis series. But back to Friday’s 21-point, 12-rebound signature performance: Looney was always in position to catch a feed from teammates and made 10 of 14 shots. To say this was Looney’s most impressive offensive output would be an understatement. He’s a career 4.7 ppg scorer in the NBA and hadn’t topped 20 points in a game since his freshman year at UCLA.
All that said … the Mavericks, as is their biggest weakness, offer little to nothing in terms of big man resistance. They made him look like Kevon Olajuwon. Starting center Dwight Powell was scoreless and saw just seven minutes. And on a per-minute basis, Maxi Kleber was actually worse, with one (no typo) rebound in 33 minutes (and only three points). Kleber at one point desperately reached and grabbed Looney on a layup attempt, which probably shocked Looney more than anything, that someone would resort to that against him. He was that, um, unstoppable.
“He’s found a way to impact games,” Steph Curry said. “He’s got composure, experience and know-how.”
Looney helped the Warriors get 62 points in the paint. He’s also the first Warriors center to post a 20-10 playoff game since Robert Parish in 1977. That says a lot about Warriors centers of the past. But a little about Kevon, too, at least in this game, on this night. It doesn’t matter that he probably won’t score 20 again in this series, or ever again. When they needed it, he supplied it.
“I feel gratitude for being part of this team and now I have a real chance to make a difference and help this team win,” he said.
2. Mavs made 3s, until they didn’t
It happened suddenly, then quickly. We’re talking about the Mavs’ hot and then cold relationship with the long shot. A team that was 11-for-48 in Game 1 would eventually hit those open looks, coach Jason Kidd predicted, and such was the case in Game 2. The Mavs’ starters were 14-for-18 from deep in the first half, and look no further for reasons why the Mavericks held a 19-point lead.
But that third quarter was downright foul. Dallas went 2-for-13, and when those shots didn’t fall, Dallas panicked and forgot how to explore other ways to score.
As Kidd said: “We have to understand, when we shoot three of four (threes) and miss, you’ve got to go to the rim and get the ball into the paint, got to get to the free-throw line. When you go 2-for-13 and you rely on the 3, you can die by it, and we died in the third quarter.”
One reason for the Warriors’ win is how Golden State didn’t always rely on 3s. The Warriors reached the rim and had balance with a paint presence, which was lost on Dallas.
You might wonder if the Mavericks have that type of personnel. Outside of Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie (and Dinwiddie was noticeably mild Friday), Dallas lacks creators. And it showed in Game 2.
3. Warriors guards were too quick for Dallas
This was demonstrated constantly Friday and in the first game as well. Curry is attacking the rim as much as he’s shooting 3s. Jordan Poole is also taking his man off the dribble. They combined for 55 points in Game 2 and devastated Dallas during the second-half stampede.
This comes as a bit of a surprise and a switch from the last round, when the Mavs held Devin Booker in check the last two games of their semifinals series and frustrated Chris Paul for nearly the entire series. If the Mavs didn’t limit those two, they’re not even playing the Warriors right now.
And if the Mavericks have any designs of winning four of five games and claiming this series, they’ll need to recapture the same formula that worked against Phoenix. Because with the exception of the first quarter of Game 1, Curry has sizzled, and when Poole is coming off the bench there’s no drop-off in quality or impact.
They combined for 22 and shot 6-for-7 in the fourth quarter when the Warriors pulled away for good. In that sense, Curry and Poole were solid closers, never letting the Mavs back into the mix.
The biggest positive about this scenario, of course, is how Poole’s confidence remains at a high. These are the first meaningful games in his brief NBA career; remember, in February of last year he was in the G League. Since assuming a larger role while Klay Thompson recovered from injuries, Poole hasn’t been afraid of the moment or challenge.
“When Steph comes off the floor, the defense tends to focus on me a little bit, so it’s just about continuing to be aggressive, not only to try and make plays for my teammates but look for more shots to keep the rhythm going,” he said.
The longer he keeps that attitude and number of buckets, the Warriors don’t have to sweat Klay Thompson’s inconsistency. Poole might even be the better late-game option.
4. Luka is back to being a problem
Remember that defense thrown at him in Game 1 by the Warriors? It wasn’t so effective this time. Doncic did what he wanted: Go isolation, draw fouls, break down the defense, get buckets.
“It’s a tough job,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Doncic is an amazing player. Against someone that good, you’re just trying to limit the easy stuff.”
You could question whether he was as damaging as the 42 points might suggest; Doncic was a minus-12 on the night and a slew of his points came after Golden State assumed the lead for good midway through the fourth.
Still: 42 is 42. And he did that with a shoulder that had some discomfort. Doncic remains the most important player on the floor, meaning he, more than anyone else, will dictate how this series goes. When he started strong, getting 18 in the first quarter, the Mavericks were in total control, because the Golden State defense had to respect Luka which left his teammates open.
What’s disheartening for Dallas, aside from the third quarter, is how the Mavs can lose despite 73 points from Doncic and Brunson. And 117 points should be enough to win.
“I think offensively we were fine,” said Doncic. “The defensive end we’ve got to improve a lot.”
5. Warriors have been here, done that
The experience factor is heavily in Golden State’s favor primarily because of the championship pedigree of Curry, Green and Thompson. Some of this experience is reflected in their home dominance, where they’re now 8-0 in the playoffs. The simple math says if this streak continues, the Warriors will not only win the Western Conference finals by staying unbeatable at home, they’ll also win the championship.
Of course, it’s not that simple. And the Warriors will certainly see an unfriendly atmosphere in Dallas the next two games.
“We just witnessed the last couple of weeks what Dallas is capable of,” Kerr said. “They were down 2-0 to Phoenix and came back and won in seven. Dallas is really a tough environment, great home court.”
That said, the Warriors are presenting the Mavericks with a tough task: Trying to beat a more proven team for the second straight series. That might be a lot to ask of a Dallas team that’s in the conference finals for the first time since 2011 and the first with Doncic.
For the Mavericks, holding court at home will require making the 3s, Doncic dominating and the Mavericks rediscovering the art of playing defense. Absent of that, the Warriors are perhaps bringing a bit too much: Curry, Poole, Draymond, Thompson … and now Looney?
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