Just after Stephen Curry got going with his first three of the night on Sunday, head coach Steve Kerr mad a quick defensive switch. His first man off the bench in the Warriors’ 126-85 win? Kevon Looney.
“Tonight was all about defense and taking care of the ball,” Kerr said. “Loon is a good match-up in this series, because of all the isos and because of the one-on-one play.”
As he did in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets, Looney proved to be the X-factor for the Warriors in what was a stout defensive effort in Game 3, as James Harden and Chris Paul wound up finishing just 12-for-32 combined from the field for 33 points.
“You need bigs who can switch out and cover Chris and James, and Loon’s really good at that,” Kerr said. “He’s gotten better and better all season. What the series is about for us is how well we can defend without fouling … I thought Loon was great tonight.”
Harden — known for getting to the foul line — was just 4-of-5 on free throws, and the Rockets as a team attempted just 13 freebies. Looney’s disciplined early defensive stand blunted any early offensive momentum the Rockets could generate as the Warriors found their offensive legs. In his first two minutes on the floor, Looney pulled down an offensive rebound, blocked two shots and forced a shot clock violation. He got up into shooters and funneled drivers in to Draymond Green down low.
“One thing led to another,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Played soft, actually. I mean, you can’t do that with these guys. These guys are good. We still might not have won. If you want points, you have to play well. We didn’t make shots early, we turned it over.”
“He’s right,” Harden said. “We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. We started off the game pretty solid, and then we let them gain some confidence to end the first quarter.”
Along with 20 turnovers on the game, the Rockets missed 15 dunk or lay-up attempts. That, combined with 15 defensive rebounds by Green, allowed the Warriors to get out in transition, scoring 23 fast-break points.
“When we’re getting stops, that’s when we’re at our best,” Green said.
Looney’s first block came on a three-point attempt in the corner by Eric Gordon. His second came on a baseline drive by Luc Mbah a Moute with 3:37 to go in the first quarter, leading to a Green run-out with Klay Thompson, who finished with one of his six buckets on the night.
“That’s always the key for us, when we defend, then we can get out and run,” Kerr said. “Houston’s a very good defensive team, and they have made it tough on us … If we can get stops, we know we can get out in transition and get much better shots. That’s the whole key is getting stops, not fouling, not reaching, not letting the game stop and let them get to the foul line and keep things going and keep the pressure on you.”
In Game 2, three Houston players scored 20 points or more. In Game 3, only four Rockets even scored in double figures, led by 20 from Harden — his lowest output of the series.
“We didn’t have the thrust we had in the second game,” said D’Antoni. “We kind of reverted back to the first game. We’ll talk about that. Then, we didn’t make plays, we didn’t make shots, didn’t make plays, it looked like the air seeped out of the balloon.”
The 85 points Houston scored were the fewest scored by a Golden State playoff opponent this year.
“There was no resistance in Game 2,” Green said of the Warriors’ 22-point loss on Wednesday in Houston. “There was resistance tonight.”
On a night when the Hamptons Five started once again, it was Looney and another role player — Shaun Livingston — who provided key minutes.
Golden State went on an 11-0 run to end the first half with a small lineup on the floor, with Livingston delivering a hyper-efficient 2-for-4, two-offensive rebound performance in just his first five minutes on the floor.
“I think it just spaced the floor for us a little bit, and also allowed us to play a little faster,” Livingston said. “That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve been going smaller, even [more so] than we are. I think it’s kind of a wrinkle that they threw at us, and I think we’re kind of adjusting to that.”
Livingston snagged his one defensive rebound of the first half off a P.J.Tucker hook miss, pushed it up to Iguodala, who found Nick Young for three with 2.7 seconds left in the half.
To cap off his 4-for-9, nine-point night, Livingston crossed up James Harden and drove for a two-handed jam with 8:29 left in the game, putting the Warriors ahead 97-72.
“I thought Shaun was great,” Kerr said. “He was very aggressive. I think he got nine shots up, if I’m not mistaken. We need his offense. It’s a small game, obviously, when you play Houston. The floor is spread. Shaun’s not a three-point shooter, but he’s a great driver, great mid-range shooter, great post-up guy. I thought his play at both ends was very important.”
With the win, Golden State has won 16 straight home playoff games, passing the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls for the NBA record.
The Warriors outscored Houston 72-42 in the second half, and all five Golden State starters scored in double figures for the first time this postseason, after turning the trick seven times during the regular season. Curry led with 35, followed by 25 from Kevin Durant, 13 from Thompson and 10 each from Andre Iguodala and Green.
It was also Curry’s first 30-point performance of the playoffs.
The Warriors scored a playoff-high 126 points, surpassing their previous high of 123 on April 28 against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Warriors are now 9-0 when scoring 110 or more points during the postseason. They’re 3-0 when scoring 120 or more. Golden State’s 72 second-half points are the most the Warriors have scored in the second half during the 2018 playoffs.
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