SAN FRANCISCO—Like a beloved band on a reunion tour, the Golden State Warriors played all the familiar hits Friday night: Anxiety-inducing drama? Check. Three-point flurries? Of course. Exhilarating comeback? Naturally. When your setlist is this strong, you stick to it.
In the abstract, there was nothing new or surprising in the Warriors stumbling into a 19-point hole, or in erasing that deficit in spectacular fashion, or in converting every big play in a dazzling fourth-quarter surge to seize a 126–117 victory over the Dallas Mavericks and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
It’s the finer details that made it striking.
It’s the Otto Porter Jr. three-pointer, early in the fourth quarter, that gave the Warriors their first lead of the night. It’s the eight-point burst from Jordan Poole that followed. It’s the Moses Moody layup that provided a cushion. It’s everything Andrew Wiggins did to keep Luka Dončić from commandeering the Chase Center.
When the Warriors last played a game this big, this deep in the spring, Porter was a Bull, Wiggins was a Timberwolf and Poole a Wolverine. And Moody? He was a junior …in high school.
So yes, the Warriors did all the usual Warriors things Friday—Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson delivering fourth-quarter daggers, Draymond Green making smart, timely plays, yadda, yadda—but this victory was as much a measure of who they’ve become as who they’ve been, and a testament to how quickly the next-generation Warriors have come to think, play and strut with the confidence of the old guys.
The swagger, it seems, is contagious.
“Yeah, we ride the confidence,” Poole said, “but as a team. These guys have been there before. … We look to them for leadership, but we also write our own story and are doing anything we can just to help our team win games.”
That also included Kevon Looney—a bit player in the Warriors’ last title run in 2018, who became absolutely essential here Friday night, after Green got into early foul trouble. Looney responded with a career-best 21 points and 12 rebounds (five offensive), repeatedly rescuing possessions with putbacks. In doing so, he also became the first Warriors center with a 20-10 line in the playoffs since Robert Parish in 1977.
The Warriors needed all of it to repel a 42-point, eight-assist night by Dončić, and to avoid a potentially catastrophic loss that would have ceded home-court advantage to the Mavericks, with the next two games in Dallas.
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Poole, who had never played in a postseason until last month, dropped 23 points on the Mavericks in Game 2. Wiggins, who had never been out of the first round until now, provided 16 points while tangling all night with Dončić, one of the league’s elite scorers.
And Moody, a 19-year-old rookie who hadn’t played the first three quarters, was inserted to start the fourth and played a steady nine-plus minutes when the Warriors needed it most. He scored just one basket—but it came just after a three from Dončić had cut the lead to six points with 3:36 to play.
“He’s poised,” coach Steve Kerr said of Moody. “He doesn’t seem like a 19-year-old rookie.”
Somehow, the mere act of pulling on a Warriors jersey and walking out with Curry seems to confer poise on everyone in his orbit. Maybe it’s the knowledge that, eventually, the guys with the championship rings will close the deal, as they did again Friday.
Green even hit a rare three after returning midway through the fourth, which was followed by threes from Thompson and then Curry, who punctuated one shot with some chest-pounding and another with a “night-night” gesture in front of the Mavericks’ bench. He even said, “Night-night,” as his shot swished.
“I was looking at the ball and looking at the rim, so I was talking to myself,” Curry said. “I don’t know who heard it.”
If you’re on the receiving end of those shots and gestures, it’s somewhere between deflating and infuriating. If you’re the one passing, rebounding and screening for Curry, it’s empowering. And it’s the story of the Warriors’ season—a months-long campaign to reclaim their preeminence while integrating new faces and grooming the next generation.
Now they all stand two wins away from a return to the Finals.
“We try to bring that attitude,” Curry said, “and those guys are really demonstrating the moment is not too bright for them. We need everybody’s contribution, because this team is different than years past.”
Different, yes. Some faces have changed. But they all bring a familiar flair, a steady rhythm, a keen sense of timing. They’ve all learned to play the hits.
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