As he went to the free-throw line on Friday night, the "MVP" chants rained down from the crowd. He took a deep breath, lined up the shot, and made his free throw for the three-point play. He had a career-high 21 points on the night, shooting 10-14 with 12 rebounds to help the Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks 126-117 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. But it was a million things that he did around the ball, that will never show up on the stat sheet, that set him apart.
Immediately after the game, the cameras found him. It wasn't Stephen Curry. It wasn't Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins or Jordan Poole, all of whom had double-digit games on Friday night.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was Mr. Kevon Looney.
You could copy and paste a summary of the Warriors' start to Game 2 from any number of games throughout the playoffs and regular season: Golden State got off to a slow start and turned the ball over frequently. (The Dubs would have 13 turnovers on the night, but the Mavs would have 12.)
Dallas went on to control the first half of the game, and unlike Game 1, got some serious productivity from the rest of their starting lineup. Jalen Brunson had 36 points and was 5-7 from three with 7 rebounds; Reggie Bullock had 21 points, and was 6-7 from three. Luka Doncic would score 42 points on the night, leading all players.
The Mavericks led by as much as 19, and it looked like they might run away with Game 2.
The Warriors started to chisel away at the lead in the third quarter.
Dallas was up by 11 with six minutes left in the third when Draymond Green picked up his fifth foul. Kevon Looney had just sat down after long, productive minutes under the rim on both ends of the court, and reentered the game to replace Green. Klay Thompson got to the cup a few times shortly thereafter, scoring a handful of his 15 points on the night. The Warriors started to string together a series of stops, and the Mavericks' laser-sharp shooting from the first half started to dull.
The crowd had started to get back into the game when Looney got under the rim for his made bucket and one. That's when Chase Center showed their appreciation, and made their impromptu vote for Looney as MVP for the grindy minutes that he'd been putting in. (His peak-performance goes all the way back to Game 6 against Memphis, really.) It was 81-76 Mavs, and the game was as close as it had been since the first quarter.
The Warriors won the third quarter 25-13.
Enter Otto Porter Jr. for a chunk of his 11 points and 7 rebounds. Porter hit the go-ahead bucket in the fourth quarter, which began with a lot of bench players, including Jordan Poole and rookie Moses Moody, who played 10 long, critical minutes on Friday through the heart of the Warriors' comeback, which was the third-largest come-from-behind playoff game in franchise history.
"The trust of coach Steve Kerr," paraphrasing TNT announcer Reggie Miller. "He's saying, 'Let me roll with who got me to the dance.'"
About mid-way through the fourth quarter, Looney got another bucket, coming close to his 21-point total. Back the other way, Klay Thompson played amazing defense on Jalen Brunson, denying Dallas a score; Kevon got the rebound, hustling to keep the ball in bounds, and eventually dishing to Jordan Poole — Looney set a screen for Poole, who fired the three . . . splash . . . and the Warriors suddenly had a five-point lead.
At the ensuing timeout, Steve Kerr gave Looney a hug, and spent moments saying something. At the postgame press conference, a reporter asked Looney what had been said. "Aaaaaaahh . . . I probably don't want to share," Looney answered. "But Steve always goes to bat for me."
Looney said that he takes pride in "making his guys look good. And in turn, they make me look good. Me and JP — it's always fun, us being front he same city to play on a stage like this, to have those moments. Growing up, I never would have envisioned I would be able to play with someone from my city [Milwaukee] in the Western Conference Finals.
"Moments like that I cherish."
"This is like a snowball rolling down hill. When it rains it pours," Reggie Miller said, mashing up metaphors to describe the Warriors' slow, steady and seemingly inevitable comeback.
Draymond and Steph returned to the game with about six minutes left in the fourth, but Green would eventually foul out. He'd gotten a technical foul earlier, and there were some weird, chippy moments and long video reviews. (Damion Lee and Davis Bertans got into a strange but innocuous entanglement; double technicals were given to each of them.) Draymond kept "walking up to the line," according to the announcers, in terms of giving the referees an earful, and in terms of flirting with ejection. (During the Memphis series, a fan on the sidelines can clearly been seen saying, "Hey Draymond, it's ok!")
Are these moments all part of Draymond Green's plan? Is he firing up his teammates? Was he stoking Looney's fire? Draymond's ultimate expulsion never felt seismic, given the productivity of the rest of the Warriors.
Despite his 42 points, Luka never felt like he could impose his will on the game, or swing it in the Mavs' favor. He did hit some timely threes late in the fourth quarter, cutting the Warrior lead to around seven. But the Mavericks could not buy a stop, and had to settle for trading baskets down the stretch.
The Dubs won the fourth quarter 43-32.
"The confidence that we have in everybody who's out there to step up and make plays — you feel that flow and you don't want to interrupt it, even though those are important minutes," Steph Curry said at the postgame press conference about the performance of his team in the fourth. "JP, Loone, Otto especially — they did their job and helped seal that win for us."
"What's been your obsession with 'bedtime' these playoffs?" a reporter asked Curry.
"I have no idea. You talk about having kids, bedtime routines are important. It's the final signal for a job well-done that day."
Top Image: Photo by Harry How/Getty Images