SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors have a history of great third quarters. Nobody knows exactly why.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr might give the best halftime speech ever. They may need 24 minutes to fully appreciate how their opponent is approaching the game. Maybe they need those 24 minutes to wake up. But whatever it is, they come out after halftime and mostly roll.
That was certainly the case on 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 lead in the series.
The first two quarters of the game belonged to the Mavericks. They hit 15 3-pointers in the first half, setting a new franchise record for 3-pointers made in a playoff half. Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson became the second starting tenure pair to each have 20 points in the first half of a playoff game in the past 25 seasons.
“I told them that if we got some confidence in the second half, the game would come to us,” Kerr said. “But I thought we were so scattered in the first half. Maybe emotionally more than anything else. Dallas came out and just beat us. We were confident that we would do that [got poised]they wouldn’t do 15 3s in the second half.”
At the start of 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 (18) than the Mavericks overall (13) in the third round. Dallas’ 13 points in the third is the fewest in a quarter this postseason, and the Warriors 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 and just tried to keep the bodies on Luka,” Stephen Curry said. “Close on the shooters we know are hot and then bounce the ball back so this is our best offense.”
The Warriors dominated the entire second half together. Otto Porter Jr. hit a 3-pointer in the fourth to give the Warriors their first lead. Jordan Poole kept attacking the rim to swing the momentum. 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 “nerve-wracking.”
On defense, Looney kept the Mavericks on a 1-of-11 shot from the field as a main defender, including keeping Doncic at 0-of-3. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Looney is used to being switched to guards like Doncic. He was traded to James Harden during the Warriors’ dynastic runs as Golden State faced Houston several times in the postseason.
“I take a similar approach,” Looney said. “I’m just a little more battle-hardened. That was the first time I played on a big stage like this. I don’t know if even my teammates had the most faith in me, but they got me out there and I did pretty well.
“I’m just a little smarter now and a little more physical. So I can guard these guys a little bit better. Luke and Brunson [Spencer] Dinwiddie are all different types of players, different types of Iso players. Kinda hard guarding 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 will keep coming back.”
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 posted a career-high 21 points in Game 2. Not only was this the first time he had 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 1970s.
Looney hasn’t worked all that much on the Dunker spot during the regular season, but he’s comfortable with it. Against the Mavericks, who lack a really big rim protector or shot blocker, the Warriors could rely on drop-off passes to Looney. And with so much defensive attention being paid to Curry, Poole and Klay Thompson, the color remains open for Looney.
“Playing center for the Warriors is a different kind of job than other teams,” Looney said. “We don’t really have to do a lot of points and things. It’s a lot of screen settings and a lot of gameplay and different things. For me it’s cool to have a game like this.”
Eleven of Looney’s points came in the third quarter as the Warriors made their wild push.
At one point in the second quarter, the Warriors were 19 behind, making Friday their third-biggest playoff comeback in 25 years.
Golden State finally took the lead for the first time 18 seconds into the fourth quarter when Porter hit a 3-pointer from the right corner. The Warriors beat the Mavericks 68-45 in the second half.
“It’s just the supreme confidence in what we’re doing,” Curry said. “You don’t really know what they’re talking about in the group and you don’t really sense what’s on their minds. You only imposed your will. As for us, the experience and just the chemistry.
“We have this attitude and this spirit that we never feel upset with. I think only one game so far in this playoff run has greatly outperformed us from start to finish. But that belief then turns into execution of the game, and you can feel the momentum. It’s more focused on what we’re doing and when you have that opportunity to stretch the dagger or make three stops in a row, those are the times when you feel that good energy walking our path.”