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Warriors set to face surprising Mavericks

by The Associated Press | May 18, 2022 at 3:31 a.m.
Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd, left, talks with Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Phoenix. The Suns won 110-80. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Many months ago and well before he returned to the court from an injury absence of more than 2 1/2 years, Klay Thompson made a bold proclamation: "It's championship or bust."

Thompson, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are one step closer to having a chance to make good on those words as they prepare to tip off Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference final against the Dallas Mavericks tonight.

"I love the moments. I love the pressure. I love playing basketball at the highest level," Thompson said.

Thompson looks like his old self this postseason after returning in January. He had been sidelined since the 2019 NBA Finals when he tore the ACL in his left knee and had surgery. He was working his way back when he tore his right Achilles tendon and underwent another operation.

He can't wait to lead the Warriors into the best-of-seven series against the surprising fourth-seeded Mavericks, who took down top-seeded Phoenix 123-90 in the deciding seventh game of their series Sunday.

"They're obviously playing at a really high level, they have a lot of guys that have shined this playoff run," Curry said.

A year ago, Giannis Antetokounmpo had his breakthrough moment on the playoff stage leading Milwaukee to a title, and now this might be Luka Doncic's time to do so for Dallas.

"He's a really unique player and clearly one of the very best players in the league," Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. "I think the ability to shoot the step-back three and also get to the rim and pass the ball so well makes him a really difficult cover. He's got a lot of confidence, he feeds his players confidence. You can see that. There's a good vibe on that team, a good spirit. There's a reason they're here in the conference finals."

Doncic and Mavs great Dirk Nowitzki, who led Dallas to the 2011 title, shared a moment on the court in Phoenix after Game 7. At 24, the big German was a year older than Doncic when he reached the West finals for the first time with the Mavericks in 2003. Dallas lost to San Antonio in six games and Nowitzki missed the last three games with a knee injury.

Nowitzki played with Doncic when the Slovenian was a rookie in 2018-19 then retired after a record 21 seasons with the same franchise and took two years off before becoming a team consultant.

"He was just happy," Doncic said of their conversation Sunday. "I think he gives everybody on this team a lot of confidence when you see Dirk sitting courtside. I think everybody really appreciates him because Dirk is Dirk. He's been through everything. He's been a champion so he knows it."

It's also a breakthrough of sorts for the Mavs' Jason Kidd, who is in his first season as coach of the team he helped win the title as the point guard. Kidd led Brooklyn to the second round as a rookie coach in 2013-14, the season after the Hall of Famer retired as a player. Kidd couldn't get Milwaukee out of the first round in two tries over three seasons. He was fired during his fourth season with the Bucks.

The Dallas defense presents a challenge for the Warriors' high-powered offense.

The Suns shot at least 50% in their first eight playoff games before Dallas held Phoenix under that mark the final five games. The Suns shot 24% in the first half of Game 7 while falling behind by 30.

The Mavericks also held Phoenix to its three lowest-scoring games, regular season included, in the series -- 103-94 in Game 3, 113-86 in Game 6 and 123-90 in Game 7.

Dallas was second to Boston in fewest points allowed per game during the regular season, the highest finish in franchise history. The Celtics finished at 104.5 and the Mavs at 104.7.

The teams haven't met in the playoffs since Don Nelson's "We Believe" Warriors team of 2007 led by Baron Davis upset the top-seeded Mavericks in six games -- stunning Nowitzki and Co. in one of the bigger shockers in NBA history after Dallas had lost in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Heat.

Golden State ended a franchise-worst 12-year playoff drought that season and won a best-of-seven series for the first time in 31 years.

The Warriors became only the third eighth seed to upset the No. 1 and the first since the opening round went from best-of-five to the current format. The Denver Nuggets (1994) and the New York Knicks (1999) were the other teams.

"I just remember the energy, I didn't really know much about Dub Nation at the time or what was going on out here in the Bay," Curry said. "I was at Davidson. You could just tell how electric the building was coming through the TV."

Kerr insisted he wouldn't discuss turnovers with the Warriors this time, saying he's using "the opposite theory" straight out of sitcom "Seinfeld."

"It's been the No. 1 key on our board for about 72 straight games so there's no point. I think if I don't say anything then we're going to take care of the ball," Kerr said.

The Warriors committed 19.2 turnovers per game over the six games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference semifinals, including one with 24 and another with 22.

Kerr acknowledged a near mishap of his own while watching the sloppy play in the Game 6 clincher Friday night while at home with covid-19.

"The beer mug that I was drinking my beer out of was close to being shattered after a few of those turnovers," he said with a smile.

  photo  Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr gestures to players during the first half of Game 2 of the team's second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
 
 
  photo  Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic celebrates on the bench during the second half of Game 7 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal against the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 123-90. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 
 
  photo  Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic smiles on the bench during the second half of Game 7 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal against the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 123-90. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 
 
  photo  Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) leaves the court after Game 7 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal against the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 123-90. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 
 
  photo  Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson celebrates the team's win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals of the NBA basketball playoffs in San Francisco on Friday, May 13, 2022. The Warriors won 110-96 to advance to the conference finals. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
 
 
  photo  Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) takes a 3-point shot over Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal in San Francisco, Friday, May 13, 2022. The Warriors won 110-96 and advanced to the conference finals. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
 
 
  photo  Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) celebrates a 3-pointer by Klay Thompson's against the Memphis Grizzles during the second half in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals of the NBA basketball playoffs in San Francisco on Friday, May 13, 2022. The Warriors defeated the Grizzlies 110-96 to advance to the conference finals. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
 
 
  photo  Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) during the second half of Game 7 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 123-90. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 
 
  photo  Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates a 3-pointer by Klay Thompson, left, against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal in San Francisco, Friday, May 13, 2022. The Warriors won 110-96 and advanced to the conference finals. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
 
 

Print Headline: Warriors set to face surprising Mavericks

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