The Golden State Warriors have quickly taken control of their Western Conference Finals series against the Dallas Mavericks, as they have raced out to a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. After dominating Game 1, the Warriors fell behind by 19 points in the first half of Game 2 but quickly stormed back in the second half to ensure they didn’t lose home-court advantage in the series.
For all the star players on Golden State, you would figure one of them would have stepped up to take control of the game with their team down big. But it wasn’t Steph Curry or Klay Thompson or Jordan Poole. It ended up being Kevon Looney of all people.
Looney was supposed to be the backup center to James Wiseman for the Warriors this season, but Wiseman never ended up playing. As a result, Looney has played every game for the Warriors this season, and while his role has fluctuated depending on the opponent, Looney has put together one of his best stretches of basketball at just the right time.
Looney sparked the Warriors’ comeback in Game 2
Through two games, Looney has controlled the paint on both ends of the floor for Golden State. With the Mavericks running Maxi Kleber as a small-ball center rather than Dwight Powell, Looney has been feasting when Dallas tries to get into the paint, which isn’t often. And on the other end of the court, nobody in the paint can prevent Looney from getting open looks at the rim.
In the third quarter of Game 2, Golden State scored more points in the paint (18) than Dallas scored in the entire quarter (13). A big reason for that was Looney. With Dallas playing stout defense at the perimeter, the Warriors were either driving to the paint for easy layups or feeding Looney, who scored 20+ points for the first time in his NBA career.
For much of the first half, it seemed like the Mavericks had figured out Golden State’s defense by simply going smaller with Kleber and forcing Looney to come out to the perimeter to guard them. But Looney can hold his own on the perimeter too, which makes him the ultimate weapon for the Dubs right now. No matter who they run at center, Looney can go toe-to-toe with them.
Looney’s paint dominance could destroy the Mavs
The Mavericks made it to the Western Conference Finals because of a similar gamble they took against the Phoenix Suns in their previous series. They tended to go small with Kleber rather than Powell at center, and it paid off because the Suns couldn’t find a way to get Deandre Ayton involved in the game. Consider Ayton’s stats over the final two games of that series and Looney’s stats over the first two games of this series:
Ayton: 13 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.5 APG
Looney: 15.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 3 APG
It may not seem like a huge discrepancy, but when you consider Ayton is practically Phoenix’s third-best player and that Looney wasn’t even supposed to be a starter for Golden State this season, the gap becomes much more significant. The Suns couldn’t take advantage of Dallas going small; the Warriors have been able to so far.
Looney vastly outproducing his expectations heading into this series has been a big reason the Warriors have raced out to a 2-0 series lead. Not much was expected of him, but the numbers show he is performing better than one of the top centers in the league. So unless the Mavericks can come up with an answer for Looney’s paint prowess soon, it could be the end of the line for them soon.