The Dallas Mavericks looked poised to steal a Western Conference Finals game on the road Friday. They jumped out to a 26-10 lead in the first quarter, and after going 15-of-27 from three, they were up 14 at halftime.
Then, the Warriors had a vintage second half, at least in terms of the overwhelming runs. Outside of Stephen Curry, the names of the players responsible for taking control of the 126-117 victory were different than the ones we saw from 2014 to 2019.
Draymond Green was minus-19 in a nine-point win. He seemed more concerned with trying to get ejected for yelling at officials than he did with grabbing boards. Klay Thompson was minus-nine, and despite going 6-of-10 from the field, he seemed invisible for stretches.
When Green picked up his fifth foul with six minutes left in the third, Steve Kerr was forced to take him out. Dallas was up 79-68 when he did. By the time Draymond returned with just over six minutes left in the fourth, the Warriors were up eight.
What happened in between? Years of patience and trust in a system that won them three titles paid off.
During those 12 minutes, Jordan Poole had 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting and three assists. Otto Porter hit all three of his shot attempts, scored seven points and grabbed three boards. Kevon Looney put in nine points, collected four rebounds and handed out three assists. Curry, Green and Thompson combined for four points.
Just over a year ago, Poole was getting G League burn.
As a rookie, he shot 33.3 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from three, but the Warriors never gave up on him. In time, his brand of improvisation found a sweet spot within Golden State’s movement- and pass-heavy offense. Now, he’s an X-factor in this playoff run.
After dropping 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting Friday, Poole is now averaging 19.5 while shooting 52.4 percent from the field in the playoffs.
Porter, meanwhile, has been a reliable source of multipositional defense and floor spacing all season. On Friday, he made all four of his shots and registered 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in just 24 minutes.
Porter’s 17.2 net rating this season leads all Warriors, and they’re minus-2.7 points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor.
As for Looney, he’s developing into something of a folk hero this postseason. Against Dallas, Rudy Gobert was minus-23. Deandre Ayton was minus-25. But for the life of them, the Mavericks can’t seem to figure out what to do with Looney.
As if 22 rebounds and five assists after re-entering the starting lineup for the closeout win over the Memphis Grizzlies wasn’t enough, Looney came up with another monster line Friday, putting in a career-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds. And no bigs on the Mavs seem remotely interested in working as hard as Looney is inside.
At 6’9″, he’s undersized against plenty of matchups, but not in this one (as long as Maxi Kleber keeps getting the bulk of the minutes at the 5), especially when he plays with the relentless energy he’s shown throughout the playoffs.
And though he wasn’t a big part of the group that flipped the game in the aforementioned 12-minute stretch, Andrew Wiggins might be the most important member of this supporting cast.
He takes the opposition’s most difficult perimeter matchup. Against Dallas, that’s obviously Luka Doncic. And while the Mavs superstar went off for 42 points in Game 2, Wiggins is making things difficult on him.
He’s long and athletic and uses both to generally stay in front of Luka as long as just about anyone can. Picking him up full court also seems to be wearing Doncic down over the course of the game. In Game 1, Luka scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. Friday, he scored 24 before halftime.
On the other end of the floor, Wiggins has embraced a role within this Warriors system that has dramatically transformed him as a player. He’s moving without the ball, relying far less on long twos and making reads as a passer that would’ve seemed like pie in the sky from him in the past.
The Warriors changed Wiggins for the better. They developed Poole into a borderline star before his 23rd birthday. They’ve trusted Porter during high-leverage possessions alongside the superstars. And they’re rewarding Looney for years of work ethic within the organization (and he’s rewarding them right back).
Almost 20 years ago, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker won their first title together. They were 26, 25 and 20, respectively. When they won their last title as a trio, 11 years later, they needed more help.
Golden State’s gap between now and its first championship in 2015 is shorter, but something similar seems to be happening. Poole is not Kawhi Leonard, but he’s a potential star taking a heavy share of the offensive responsibility from Curry, Green and Thompson.
Without going comp for comp down both rosters, it’s safe to assume the rest of that supporting cast will need to be as locked down as San Antonio’s was in 2014.
There’s a potential juggernaut looming on the other side of the bracket in the Boston Celtics. They’re loaded with a bona fide superstar in Jayson Tatum, multiple high-end perimeter defenders and versatility throughout their rotation.
To beat Boston, which has (by far) the best point differential in the league since January 1, the Warriors are going to need more than the stars who won a title in 2018.
If the first two games of the Western Conference Finals are any indication, the rest of the team is ready to provide.