SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors have a history of big third quarters. No one knows exactly why.
Perhaps Warriors head coach Steve Kerr gives the best halftime speech. It takes them maybe 24 minutes to fully assess how their opponent is approaching the game. Maybe they need those 24 minutes to wake up. But regardless, they come out after halftime and, more often than not, roll.
That was surely the case Friday night, when the Warriors came back from a 19-point deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 126-117 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors now have a 2-0 series advantage.
The first two quarters of the game belonged to the Mavericks. They hit 15 3s in the first half, setting a new franchise record for 3s made in the playoff half. Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson became the second pair of starting guards to each score 20 points in the first half of a playoff game in the past 25 seasons.
“I told them 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 convinced 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 total points (13). Dallas’ 13 points in the third are the lowest in a quarter this postseason, and the Warriors have limited them to just two 3-pointers this 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,” Stephen Curry said. “Get close to shooters that we know are hot and then bounce the ball around to be our best attack.”
The Warriors collectively dominated throughout the second half. Otto Porter Jr. hit a 3-pointer in the fourth to give the Warriors their first lead. Jordan Poole attacked the rim time and time again to help build momentum. Curry scored 10 of his 32 in the fourth, including the backstab 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 – which he admitted was ‘unnerving’.
On defense, Looney held the Mavericks to 1-of-11 shooting from the field as a primary defender, including holding Doncic 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 replaced by James Harden when Golden State faced Houston several times during the playoffs.
“I kind of take the same approach,” Looney said. “I’m just a bit more seasoned. It was my first time playing on a big stage like this. I don’t know if even my teammates trusted me the most, but they put me there- low and I handled it pretty well.
“I’m just a bit smarter and a bit more physical now. So I can protect those guys a bit better. Luka and Brunson, [Spencer] Dinwiddie are all different types of players, different types of iso players. Kinda hard having to guard these guys. I think I did a good job tonight. It’s going to be a long streak, so I have to keep going because these guys are going to keep coming.”
Looney’s defense — and his rebound in particular — has been a focus for the Warriors all season. In Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, he grabbed 22 rebounds.
But against the Mavericks, his offense took center stage. Looney scored a career-high 21 points in Game 2. Not only was it the first time he had scored 20 points since his freshman year at UCLA in 2015, but he became the Warriors’ first center to having a 20 and 10 playoff game since the 1970s.
Looney hasn’t worked in the dunker spot too much during the regular season, but it’s something he’s comfortable with. Against the Mavericks, who lack a truly big rim protector or shot blocker, the Warriors were able to rely on drop passes to Looney. And with so much defensive attention given to Curry, Poole and Klay Thompson, the paint was left open for Looney.
“Playing center for the Warriors is a different job than other teams,” Looney said. “A lot of points and stuff, we don’t really need us. It’s a lot of screen tweaks and a lot of playing and doing different things. For me to have a game like that is cool. “
Eleven of Looney’s points came in the third quarter, as the Warriors made their fierce push.
At one point in the second quarter, the Warriors trailed by 19 points, making Friday their third-biggest playoff comeback in the last 25 years.
Golden State finally took its first lead 18 seconds into the fourth quarter, when Porter hit a 3-pointer from the right corner. The Warriors outscored the Mavericks 68-45 in the second half.
“It’s just supreme confidence in what we’re doing,” Curry said. “You don’t really know what they’re talking about in caucus and you don’t really feel what’s going through their minds. It’s just that you imposed your will. As with us, experience and just chemistry.
“We have this attitude and this spirit where we feel like we never get out of it. I think only one game in this playoff series so far that we’ve been severely outplayed from start to finish. But that belief then turns into execution in the game, and you can feel the momentum. It’s more just focused on what we’re doing, and when you have those opportunities to hold the dagger, or make three saves in a row, that are the times when you feel that good energy going our way.”