Just when Golden State needed him the most, a Warriors veteran answered with bucket after bucket. Three long years have passed since he’s been on the Western Conference Finals stage, but his play has shown: He’s built for this.
His 21 points is the most he’s ever scored in his 422 NBA games, playoffs or regular season, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to unfurl his offensive game.
Granted, most of his points came on put-backs or drop-offs from penetrating guards, but the points helped make the difference in Game 2.
Steve Kerr said it’s time for everyone to recognize Looney’s impact:
Loon was just brilliant, again. He’s had a fantastic playoff run. He’s incredibly underrated by everybody. You know, he switches onto guards and he rebounds, he sets screens, and in a series like this, it’s so spread out, he’s able to score some buckets in the paint as well.”
Looney also pulled in 12 rebounds and, according to Statmuse, he became the first Warriors center to have 20 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game since Robert Parish in 1977.
Looney even got some MVP chants while he shot his only free throw of the game:
It was nerve-wracking. I haven’t shot a free throw in like three weeks.”
Later, Looney would add that it was something he would never forget:
I might not get another one so I’m going to have to cherish that one.”
Kerr and the rest of the Warriors knew the Mavericks weren’t going to struggle as mightily from the 3-point line as they did Wednesday. Though they likely did not envision Dallas scorching the nets and putting a 19-point lead on them.
While Luka Doncic and the Mavericks were cooking, the Warriors offense couldn’t light their stove for extended stretches, at least in the first half.
Curry matched Doncic in the first half, but unlike Game 1 when the Warriors’ others outperformed the Mavs, Doncic had plenty of backup from Jalen Brunson who finished with 31 and Reggie Bullock who had 21 of his own.
Kerr said his team lacked poise in the first half:
I did not think we were patient in the first half. I think they gave us such a shot. They came out and were physical and aggressive. Knocked us on our heels, and I thought we were, again, kind of little chaotic, little scattered. Hopefully this is a game that we can kind of put in our back pocket and remember because there’s a good chance we’ll be in this situation again.”
That’s when it turned into the Looney show.
He had 11 points in the third quarter and bought them enough time for Jordan Poole to start warming up himself.
Poole was destructive getting into the paint when Curry was off the court. He was constantly creating and scored 23 points on just 10 shots to go along with five assists.
Kerr said Poole has turned a weakness – non-Curry minutes – into something his team is comfortable with:
We’ve seen him do this with allowing Steph to rest, and still give us that offensive punch that we need, that shot creation. Jordan has really filled a role that has been tough for us to fill over the years. The Steph minutes, when he sits, traditionally have been really, really difficult for us.”
And while the Warriors were finding their groove on offense, the Mavs totally fell out of theirs. It was apparent from the jump their strategy was to put Curry in every pick-and-roll possible.
When he wouldn’t switch onto Doncic, they would just rescreen and rescreen until something gave. It led to three Curry fouls before halftime and Doncic with 18 points in the first quarter.
The strategy looked like it was working, and wearing Curry down.
And then inexplicably the Mavs switched it up for seemingly no reason. Instead of attacking Curry in the pick-and-roll, they started hunting Looney.
Just like Game 1, when none of the Mavericks could find any separation from him, he stoned any and all challengers.
Kerr said that is something they count on Looney for, especially in those past championship years:
I think people may forget, but Loon was a big part of a couple of those championships. The last two, he played a lot of minutes. We trusted him to switch and guard James Harden when we played Houston in those series. So he’s always been a guy we could trust in the playoffs. And to have him now, I don’t know where we’d be without him, frankly, because he’s just a huge part of our team.”
Doncic wasn’t getting nearly as open of shots; Brunson couldn’t get anything going, and the Warriors crept back into the game.
Maybe Dallas thought they needed to attack the Warriors leading scorer to keep him from getting 30?
Who knows, but it was Looney who tuned this game on both ends of the court.
And even though it was Curry who hit the dagger 3 and did his now patented “goodnight” celebration, it was Looney who truly put the Mavericks to bed.
The series shifts to Dallas where the Mavericks have won six of their seven games in the playoffs, including all three games against the Suns last series.
Damion Lee played perhaps the most disastrous five minutes in his Warriors career. He went 0-for-2, with two fouls, one technical, and countless baskets surrendered to his man. It was so bad that Kerr went to a 19-year-old rookie to take his rotation spot in the second half. Moses Moody played 10 huge second half minutes, and while his line of 1-of-1 for 2 points won’t leap off the page, he played within himself, made no mistakes, and looks like he should get those bench minutes going forward.