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Preview: Warriors have all the tools
Star power, battle-hardened vets, and rising role players; Golden State is tough.
Like butter spread over too much toast, the Dallas Mavericks watched in horror as their lead evaporated in the 3rd quarter. A hefty margin that was as high as 19 points proved to be not enough against a Golden State Warriors team that has the knockout power of Mike Tyson, and the tenacity of Rocky Balboa. And like Rocky 2, this team has learned the heart, and the tools that are needed to make it through these battles.
That was the 12th Warriors postseason comeback win after being down by at least 15 points since Kerr took over as head coach in 2014-15, more than any other team over the past 25 seasons.
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks
WHEN: Sunday May 22nd, 2022 // 6pm PDT
Warriors lead series 2-0
Six more wins
The Golden State Warriors aren’t looking ahead of this game, but I am. There is no longer a question that this rebuilt Warriors roster can contend for a championship; they’re there. With just six more wins between them and another set of rings, we saw just how resilient and flexible this Golden State team can be.
The core is still doing their thing. During the big 19-point comeback win on Friday, it was all on display. Curry gets trapped up high by a double team, but easily passes it out to either Kevon Looney or Draymond Green, who roll towards the basket with a couple of dribbles and their eyeballs up. Those guys don’t need to finish (but when they put direct pressure on the rim it sure is nice) just force defensive rotations so that the bevy of offensive options can find a soft spot in Dallas’ scrambling defense.
Dallas finds themselves down two games, with the series swinging back towards their home arena for the next couple of contests. They’ve got some film to look at and will hope that they can maintain the momentum that got them that 16-point lead; and not the one that lost it.
Before the series started, coach Steve Kerr compared this team to the Houston Rockets of yore, and I think many misinterpreted that as solely a reference to the parallels between Luka Doncic’s isolation-drive-and-kick style paired with a bunch of shooters standing around the edges. It was a reference to that, but also a reference to the fact that Dallas leads the league in 3-pointers made (15.6 per game) and attempted (41.1) during these playoffs - where they are shooting at a decent clip of 37.9% from beyond the arc. Mavs coach, Jason Kidd alluded to the same perils of this approach that saw Harden’s Rockets so famously go 0-27 from deep to shoot themselves out of a critical playoff game:
"When you go 2-for-13 and you rely on the 3, you can die by the 3," Kidd said after the Warriors took a 2-0 series lead. "And we died in the third quarter by shooting that many 3s and coming up with only two."
Dallas scored just 13 points in that fateful 3rd quarter — while also getting their defense picked and pulled apart on the other end. I joked in an earlier article that “some people call them old, I call them experienced” because the core of this Warriors team has a deep belief that they can win any game, or even should.
It’s backed up by having the skill to pull it off, but the gold blooded belief is something special. Here’s Curry after the win:
"That belief then turns into execution in the game, and you can feel the momentum. It's more just focused on what we do. When we have those opportunities to stick the dagger or come up with three stops in a row, those are the times where we feel the good energy going our way."
Like generals on the battlefield, Curry, Thompson, and Green can be counted on to anchor and inspire. But now the Warriors have evolved into a more well rounded team, where the cogs in Kerr’s tightened playoff rotation all know how and when to work.
Good luck beating them four times.
Looney, Poole, Wiggins, and the second wave
Along with the Warriors core, you pretty much have to include Kevon Looney, and now Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins. Players that are meaningfully critical to the team’s operation.
Wiggins has been one of Golden State’s best players through the playoffs. Steady as they come, it’s a reliable 16-19 points a night, stout defense, and now, suddenly in the playoffs, extremely active rebounding. But Looney was the player of the game in game two. After quietly turning in the best season of his entire career, Looney’s been smashing personal records this post season as the team leans on him and he says “yes, I’m a big dude, lean away.”
Did you know that Looney and Poole played against each other in high school?
I saw this clip on Twitter and my jaw dropped. Few suspected Looney had a scoring burst like this in him, but that was mostly because so much of our memory is filled with post-hip-surgery Looney. Back in high school he was one of the best players in the country:
Here’s a Marcus Thompson article on the whole relationship that you should read:
…they were in high school at the same time. In Looney’s senior year at Hamilton, Poole was a freshman at King. In February 2014, Looney’s squad went into a raucous environment at King — the balcony was packed with people — and came out with a comeback win and the Milwaukee City Conference title. Looney, newly minted as a McDonald’s All-American, finished with 26 points and punctuated the performance with a driving one-hand reverse dunk with Poole feebly reaching in the vicinity.
And via the power of the internet, check out this flash from young Looney. It’s not all the way 360, but this is one hell of an in game dunk:
It’s all too easy to forget just how young Looney is. He feels like one of the old vets, but he was in high school at the same time as Poole. That Poole has cemented his place in the next era of Warriors basketball is pretty clear at this point, but with Looney coming up on a contract year, he’s been spending the entire post season making a strong case that he can also be a member of that bridge group to the next era.
Draymond Green had a wretched night: six points, six fouls, four turnovers in 28 minutes. The Mavs outscored the Warriors by 19 points while he was on the court. We also saw seldom used ex-rotation player, Damion Lee play himself out of Kerr’s rotation with an impressively disastrous five minute stint.
But none of that matters if the core does what they mostly do, and the team finds big nights from the bridge generation guys, which at this point are Poole and Looney.
Moses Moody chipped in with some solid play, which bodes well for the future, but in the now, this team needs what Poole has been bringing. Having another slippery guard to carry the load when Curry sits, and also take advantage of Curry’s gravity.
Poole scored 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and was the game’s best plus-26 on the night (in 29 minutes).
“The coaches are giving me the keys, and my teammates trust me to put them in easy situations, to score and to make plays,” Poole said afterward of his stints with Curry out. “Just go out there and just be aggressive.”
But it’s not the aggressiveness. We’ve seen plenty of players from Monta Ellis to Speedy Claxton to Jarrett Jack be willing to attack; Poole separates himself by doing it while also fitting in with an offense that still needs the primary focus to be that egalitarian lifestyle that Kerr has built in Golden State.
I am contractually bound to call for a win, and I see no real reason to doubt it. The Mavericks model is a little too familiar to this Warriors team, and unless they get super hot from deep, it feels like the Golden State goldberg machine offense will keep picking apart the Dallas defense in creative ways.