SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors have a history of great third quarters. Nobody knows exactly why.
Perhaps Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is giving the best halftime speech there is. They may need 24 minutes to fully assess their opponent’s approach to play. Maybe they need those 24 minutes to wake up. But whatever it is, they come out after halftime, and more often than not, roll.
That was certainly the case on Friday night, when the Warriors came back from a 19-point deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks 126-117 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors now have a 2-0 lead in the series.
The first two quarters of the game were in the hands of the Mavericks. They hit 15 3-pointers in the first half, setting a new franchise record for 3s made in a playoff half. Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson became the second pair of starting guards to score 20 points each in the first half of a playoff game over the past 25 seasons.
“I told them that if we developed some balance in the second half, the game would come to us,” Kerr said. “But I thought we were so spread out in the first half. Maybe emotionally more than anything. Dallas came out and just hit us. We were confident that if we [got poised]they wouldn’t make 15 3s in the second half.”
Going into Friday’s game, the Warriors were plus-11 in the third quarter of this postseason. In Game 2 they were plus-12.
Golden State scored more points in the paint in the third (18) than the Mavericks had a total of points (13). Dallas’ 13 points in the third are the fewest in a quarter this postseason, and the Warriors limited them to just two three-pointers that quarter.
“You didn’t want to overreact, but we also got a lot better on the ball, just trying to keep the bodies on Luka,” said Stephen Curry. “Get close to the shooters we know are hot, then bounce the ball back so that’s our best attack.”
The Warriors jointly dominated the entire second half. Otto Porter Jr. hit a three-pointer in the fourth to give the Warriors their first lead. Jordan Poole attacked the rim again and again to help the momentum swing. Curry scored 10 of his 32 in the fourth, including the dagger shot that sealed the deal for Golden State.
But it was Kevon Looney who stole the show. At one point, “MVP” chants reigned as Looney attempted free throws—something he admitted was “nervous-wrenching.”
In defense, Looney held the Mavericks to 1-of-11 shooting from the field as the primary defender, including holding Doncic to 0-of-3. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Looney is used to being switched to guards like Doncic. During the Warriors’ dynastic runs, he was switched to James Harden when Golden State faced Houston multiple times during the postseason.
“I’m taking pretty much the same approach,” Looney said. “I’m just a little bit more tested. That was my first time playing on a big stage like this. I don’t know if even my teammates had the most confidence in me, but they brought me out and I’ve got it pretty good addressed.
“I’m just a little bit smarter now and a little bit more physical. So I can guard those guys a little bit better. Luka and Brunson, [Spencer] Dinwiddie are all different types of players, different types of iso players. Pretty hard to guard those guys. I think I did well tonight. It’s going to be a long run so I have to keep it up because those guys will keep coming.”
Looney’s defense – and especially his rebounding – has been a focus of attention for the Warriors all season. In Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, he grabbed 22 rebounds.
But against the Mavericks, his attack was central. Looney scored 21 points in his career in Game 2. Not only was this the first time he has scored 20 points since his freshman year at UCLA in 2015, but he became the first Warriors center to have a 20 and 10 playoff game since the 70s. .
Looney didn’t work much in the dunker spot during the regular season, but it’s something he’s comfortable with. Against the Mavericks, who don’t have a real big rim protector or shot-blocker, the Warriors could rely on drop-off passes to Looney. And with so much defensive focus on Curry, Poole and Klay Thompson, the paint was left open for Looney.
“The Warriors center, it’s a different kind of work than other teams,” said Looney. “A lot of scoring and stuff, we don’t really need us. It’s a lot of screen settings and a lot of game making and doing different things. For me it’s cool to have a game like that.”
Eleven of Looney’s points came in the third quarter, as the Warriors made their savage push.
At one point in the second quarter, the Warriors trailed 19, making their third-biggest playoff comeback in the past 25 years on Friday.
Golden State finally took its first lead 18 seconds into the fourth quarter, when Porter hit a three-pointer from the right corner. The Warriors defeated the Mavericks 68-45 in the second half.
“It’s just the utmost confidence in what we do,” Curry said. “You don’t really know what they’re talking about in the huddle and you don’t really feel what’s going through their minds. It’s just that you’ve imposed your will. Just like for us, the experience and just the chemistry.
“We have that attitude and that spirit where we feel like we’re never going to get out of it. I think there’s only one game played in this play-off so far that we’ve been heavily outdone from start to finish. But that belief then becomes in progress in the game, and you can feel the momentum, it’s more focused on what we’re doing, and when you have those opportunities to pierce the dagger, or come up with three stops in a row, those are the moments when You can feel that good energy heading our way.”
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