SAN FRANCISCO — You could see it coming before Game 2 even started. Shoot, you could see it coming before Game 1 even ended. The Dallas Mavericks were blown off the court in the first game of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday, and you knew they would come out on Friday against the Golden State Warriors with a renewed focus, a better shooting touch and a vengeful, dangerous Luka Doncic .
“I’ve seen it for my entire time in the NBA, player, executive, coach. Game 2 of a playoff series is always very different based on the outcome of Game 1,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before Game 2. “We have to maintain our edge tonight, and we’ve got to really come out and be ready for the force that they’re undoubtedly going to bring.”
Ready for the force, the warriors were not.
Just seven minutes into the game, the Mavericks had raced out to a 26-10 lead in front of a hushed Chase Center crowd. Doncic had already scored 12 points and Dallas had sunk five 3-pointers, fulfilling the promise of a bounce-back shooting night that so many expected. Meanwhile the warriors, despite knowing what was coming, looked stunned, flustered and frustrated. They turned the ball over 10 times in the first half while allowing a stunning 15 3-pointers and 72 points to the Mavericks.
Draymond Green played one of the worst halves of his playoff career, picking up a technical and finding himself in foul trouble along the way. Klay Thompson only had six points and mustered only two 3-point attempts by halftime. Stephen Curry was the only one who could get anything going, scoring 20 first-half points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting as the Warriors trailed by 14.
It was all coming to fruition. The probable had become the inevitable.
So when you see the final score, a 126-117 Warriors win to take a 2-0 lead in the series, it tells the tale of a team that absorbed a shiver-inducing body blow and got back up off the mat. Not only to survive, but to dominate.
“I thought we were so scattered in the first half. Maybe emotionally more than anything,” Kerr said after Game 2. “Dallas came out and just punched us. … So we just needed to get poised and get the game under control .”
We’re used to seeing third-quarter warriors barrages, but it’s usually characterized by the offense. They put up a respectable 25 points in the third on Friday, but they only allowed just 13 points to the Mavs, which shaved 12 points off the halftime deficit.
“We just didn’t communicate well enough on the pick and roll [in the first half]. They were able to get out and hit some shots. They were able to find some shooters,” Warriors forward Otto Porter Jr. said after the game. “We got a little bit closer to them in the second half, made it tough for them. We just played harder.”
When the fourth quarter rolled around, that’s when the offensive assault began, and a fresh face was leading the charge. With Curry resting, Jordan Poole — who’s had an up-and-down postseason after a fantastic beginning — was absolutely masterful, scoring 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. He also set up his teammates, including an absolute dime to Kevon Looney, who scored over 20 points in a game for the first time since his freshman year at UCLA.
“When Steph comes off the floor, the defense tends to focus on me a little bit more,” Poole said after the game. “So continue to be aggressive, and not only try to make plays for my teammates but try to look for more shots and just keep our rhythm going.”
By the time Poole subbed out with just over six minutes left in the game, the Warriors had turned a two-point deficit into a seven-point lead. From then on, the heroics were left to a much more familiar face of the Warriors dynasty — Wardell Stephen Curry.
Curry checked in at the 6:24 mark of the fourth quarter and proceeded to score 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. With Doncic menacingly lingering on the other side, Curry made sure that any potential Mavericks comeback was squashed before it started. He finished with 32 point on the night, going 6 of 10 from 3-point range.
“There’s a reason that our team has won championships, and it’s that we’ve got players who are stars and players who are fearless and capable of playing and performing under pressure,” Kerr said after the game. “But Steph in particular, the guy is one of the great players of all time. This is what the greats do.”
Fittingly, it was Curry’s long 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with just over a minute left that sealed the victory, and allowed him to hit the Mavericks with his latest signature “night-night” celebration.
It’s become cliche to cite the Warriors’ championship pedigree — kind of like alluding to “Heat culture” — but it’s hard to deny when you witness performances like this. This 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. Part of that is due to the highly explosive offense they’ve consistently put forth, but you don’t come back from that much, that often, without incredible resiliency, confidence and teamwork.
That’s what allows you to take an overhand right to the chin from a scrappy team with one of the best players in the NBA, then get up off the canvas to deliver the knockout blow — once again.
“For us, the experience, just the chemistry — obviously this group is different — but we have that attitude, the spirit that we feel like we’re never out of it,” Curry said after the Game 2 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.”