Kevon Looney emerges as a difference-maker

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Despite trailing by as much as 19 in the first half of Friday’s game against the Mavericks, Golden State managed to come back and make some history. With their victory, not only did the Warriors extend their lead to two games to none, but they also became the fifth franchise in NBA history to amass at least 200 playoff victories. Dallas’ tandem of Doncic and Brunson went off, but that wasn’t enough to get the Mavs a split on the road. And it was a veteran center whose impact was far greater than many anticipated going into Friday’s game.

Warriors 126, Mavericks 117 (Golden State leads, 2-0)

Stephen Curry (32/8/5 with six 3-pointers) and Jordan Poole (23/1/5/2 with two 3-pointers) having good nights offensively was not going to surprise anyone ahead of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. What may have surprised many, most especially the Dallas Mavericks, was the play of Kevon Looney. The veteran center had one of the best games of his playoff career on Friday, tallying a career-high 21 points (10-of-14 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs) to go along with 12 rebounds, and two assists in 32 minutes.

While some, including yours truly, had questions regarding the viability of a true big man before this series began, Looney was very good in the first two games of the series. If there’s a concern, it’s that Looney’s experienced a significant increase in playing time after playing no more than 19 minutes in the first five games of the Warriors’ second-round series with the Grizzlies. He did get some work done on his back during Friday’s game, but there did not appear to be any concern on the part of Looney or the Warriors. He’s played 28 minutes or more in each of his last three outings, and that feels like a safe baseline for Game 3.

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Dallas didn’t get much of anything from its two big men, Dwight Powell (no points and two rebounds in eight minutes) and Maxi Kleber (3/1/1/1/2 with one 3-pointer in 33 minutes). Kleber did offer three “stocks” on the night, and one would have to expect to see him shoot the ball better from three once this series moves back to Dallas. The question: will Jason Kidd consider moving Kleber into the starting lineup, as having another shooter on the floor may help out Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson?

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Doncic (42/5/8/3/1 with five 3-pointers; 18 first-quarter points) and Brunson (31/7/5 with five 3-pointers) had big nights, and as a team, the Mavericks shot 14-of-29 from three in the first half. By comparison, they made just three of their first 22 3-pointers in the first half of Game 1. In addition to Doncic and Brunson, Reggie Bullock (21/3/2 with six 3-pointers) had a lot to do with that. The veteran wing had to get five stitches to close a cut over his eye, but he’ll be good to go for Game 3.

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We knew that Dallas wasn’t as bad as they were shooting the three in Game 1, but the first half of Game 2 was a departure from the norm as well. Golden State stayed the course defensively, ultimately erasing a 19-point deficit in the process. The Mavericks are certainly capable of knocking down triples at a solid clip, but they’ll need to avoid settling for too many of those shots as the series shifts to Dallas. Flipping back to the Warriors, Poole outscored the Dallas bench by himself, and Otto Porter (11/7/4/1/1 with one 3-pointer) was also effective in a reserve role.

With Andre Iguodala (neck) and Gary Payton II (elbow) still sidelined, Damion Lee picked up rotation minutes in the first two games of this series. But he’s struggled, and it was Moses Moody who filled that spot during the second half. Maybe Lee gets another shot to prove that he can be an asset in Game 3, but it would not come as a surprise if he picked up a DNP-CD. Andrew Wiggins (16/5/5/1/1 with three 3-pointers) has been pivotal on both ends of the floor, and one could argue that he was more impactful in the first two games than Klay Thompson (15/4/5 with one 3-pointer). Draymond Green (6/6/5 with one 3-pointer) struggled with foul trouble and was generally ineffective when on the court.

Other NBA News:

– The Lakers are closing in on ending their search for a new head coach, as it was reported on Friday that they’re down to three finalists: former Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, and Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson. Next up for all three will be in-person interviews in Los Angeles and, according to The Athletic, Ham has already made a positive impression. He’s been an assistant for the Lakers before, and his time in Atlanta and Milwaukee has also resulted in praise for Ham and his coaching ability. Stotts and Atkinson have prior head coaching experience, so we’ll see just how much that matters to Lakers decision-makers.

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– What will also be key in the Lakers’ head coaching search will be how the candidates plan to use Russell Westbrook. It goes without saying that this season was a rough one for all involved, whether we’re talking fit or Westbrook’s fantasy impact. Also included in that report from The Athletic was that it’s unlikely that Westbrook would be waived of held out (similar to what Houston did with John Wall) if he was not traded. While he will be drafted in most leagues, it would be a major surprise if Westbrook matched his Yahoo ADP (23.9).

– The NBA revealed its All-Defensive teams, with Defensive Player of the Year winner Marcus Smart and fellow award finalists Mikal Bridges and Rudy Gobert being the top three vote-getters. Rounding out the first team were Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jaren Jackson Jr. The second team consists of Bam Adebayo, Jrue Holiday, Matisse Thybulle, Robert Williams, and Draymond Green.

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