SAN FRANCISCO — There’s no such thing as Warriors magic, no imaginary pixie dust that’s sprinkled on players once entering the walls of Chase Center that downloads championship poise into their DNA.
But it damn sure feels like it, even if old-fashioned sweat equity is the true answer. The Golden State Warriors have it, and the Dallas Mavericks may one day acquire it through experience with Luka Doncic leading the franchise.
That process can’t be sped up, though. While Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green waited their turn, it was teammates who largely hadn’t tasted June champagne that took center stage in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
Containing Doncic for a second game in a row was a pipe dream, but the supporting characters in the Bay propelled the Warriors to a 2-0 lead, erasing a 19-point deficit with a 126-117 win Friday night at Chase Center.
Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole and Otto Porter Jr. were essential to the Warriors gathering themselves after a first-half blitzkrieg from Dallas, a team that’s shown a remarkable ability to be less-than-fazed after blowout losses in these playoffs.
But taking an in-game hit from these Warriors feels different than even the league-best Suns team the Mavericks defeated in the second round. Perhaps there’s something merely to being around champions that permeates through a team, maybe team culture or simply it’s individual confidence being melded, harnessed and unleashed at the proper time.
“Coach [Steve Kerr] gives us the opportunity to play freely,” Poole said. “And the unit that we have, the guys that we have, are all team-first players. So when you go out there and be as aggressive for yourself, but knowing that if somebody is open, we are all willing to make the right play.”
Confidence looks natural on Poole, who bounces around on the outside and glides through small crevices on the inside. Seeing him motion for the Chase Center crowd to get loud after a momentum-turning third quarter gives the appearance he’s been at this level for years as opposed to being a playoff novice.
The Curry-less minutes have always been a bugaboo for the Warriors through this entire title run. But Poole, perhaps overqualified in his role, seems to relish the time as a headliner while also allowing Curry the space to be the closer rather than the one who has to expend so much energy to dig his team from big holes.
And it’s easy to point out when the inexperience is setting in for the Mavericks — even if they aren’t panicking, there’s just not the wealth of experience at this level to prevent the oncoming onslaught.
“It's just the supreme confidence in what we do,” Curry said. “You don’t really know what they are talking about in the huddle and you don’t really feel what’s going through their mind. It’s just you have imposed your will.”
Seeing Looney lumber around, then burst for rebounds or dunks — almost like playing possum — one forgets he’s a bridge from the Warriors’ title past to the one they’re hoping to build now.
“Steve always talks about, you’re always going to get an opportunity playing on this team,” Looney said. “You have to take full advantage of it, and tonight was my night to make a big difference.”
Poole was second to Curry in scoring with 23 points, while Looney was the first Warriors center since Robert Parish in 1977 to have a 20-10 playoff game, with 21 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes.
Perhaps the Mavericks were so enamored with all the other pieces on their scouting report, a page was ripped away, one titled “Don’t hunt Looney.”
They repeatedly tried to switch out their guards on the forward-turned-center, who ably navigated isolations against Doncic and Jalen Brunson. It was largely unsuccessful, playing a part in a once-insurmountable lead turning to mush in the third quarter.
The young turks hit 15 triples in the first half, even going as far as winning the minutes Doncic sat to start the second quarter. Reggie Bullock and Brunson were up to the task, and usually combining to hit 11 threes feels like a win.
But the quality of looks decreased in the second half, and the Mavericks shot just 26% in the game-turning third quarter.
“The team that loses Game 1, especially by a big margin, this is how it works,” Kerr said, mentioning the Celtics’ Game 2 response against Miami in the Eastern finals. “They are going to come out, and I thought Dallas was fantastic. They played harder. They executed better, and we were scattered.
“I told them that if we developed some poise in the second half, that the game would come to us.”
Draymond Green didn’t initially get the memo, struggling through foul trouble in the first half, picking up a technical and coming close to another before being whistled for his fifth foul with 6:01 remaining in the third.
The Warriors were in the neighborhood of a comeback, but didn’t start knocking at Dallas’ door until Looney re-entered for Green. A 15-6 run ensued, punctuated by Looney’s buzzer-beating dunk to bring the Warriors within two.
Porter subsequently gave them their first meaningful lead with a triple to start the fourth, and they wouldn’t relinquish it, even as Doncic scored 14 of his game-high 42 points in the effort to keep Dallas close.
While Kerr had Looney to turn to, knowing he at least had some level of championship experience, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd didn’t have any true alternative to watching Maxi Kleber struggle as the lone big man off the bench.
Nor could he do much with Spencer Dinwiddie having an off night, with four turnovers and a couple of errant decisions.
He’s trying to give them experience the best way he knows how, letting them walk through the fire of ruthless competition, not holding their hands or calling timeouts at the first sign of trouble.
They’ve shown the ability to be quick learners, and should probably listen to an audiobook about these Warriors on the way back to Dallas to get up to speed.
“This is a great learning experience for a young team to go through to understand what it means to stop a run. Can’t ask the coach to always call a timeout,” Kidd said. “But just sometimes you’ve got to put the ball in the basket to stop a run.”
It sounds harsh, but it’s reality — especially with Doncic putting up another sterling performance and Curry being able to carefully stalk and craft a fourth-quarter performance to undo all the young Jedi’s work.
It was as consistent a performance from Curry as there’s been in awhile. No slow starts buoyed by a flurry, but a mature playoff showing made possible by teammates who weren’t around when he was a younger man working true playoff magic.
“It just seemed like we regained the momentum and slowly, methodically walked them down until that point like the first six minutes of the fourth quarter was kind of the real momentum shift,” Curry said.
That was the time he was on the bench, as a vocal leader and encourager-in-chief to this new band of bandits — giving their slogan “Strength in numbers” a whole new meaning, yet it’s all the same.
By the time Curry hit his customary dagger triple with 1:04 left to give his team a 10-point lead, he said “night, night,” while the ball was in flight.
Night, night to the Mavericks and very possibly, to the league and these playoffs.