The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons. They punched their ticket on Thursday night with a comfortable 120-110 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals to win the series, 4-1. Now, the Warriors will await the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
In keeping with the trend during the conference finals, this game was largely uncompetitive. The Mavericks hung around early and made a run toward the end of the third quarter to briefly cut the deficit to single digits, but they never led on the night. This one was all Warriors, as they played one of their most complete games of the postseason. They dominated in the paint and on the glass, limited turnovers and assisted on 36 of their 45 made baskets.
Klay Thompson turned back the clock with his best game of the series, pouring in eight 3-pointers and 32 points to lead the way. Six different Warriors scored in double figures, including Andrew Wiggins, who went for 18 points and 10 rebounds in another strong performance. The Warriors also shot the ball well from downtown, going 14 of 36.
Luka Doncic got off to a rough start, but caught fire in the third quarter to lead the Mavericks' comeback attempt. He finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists in defeat. Spencer Dinwiddie also added 26 points off the bench. Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 5.
Strength in numbers
You can attribute Golden State's 3-1 collapse against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 to many things, but a hobbled Stephen Curry would be high on that list, so when Curry seemingly tweaked his ankle early in Game 5 with yet another 3-1 lead, Warriors fans had every right to panic. Kevin Durant isn't here anymore. Curry was the only Warrior to earn All-NBA honors, and they're playing against one of the best players in the NBA. Many teams, under similar circumstances, would've folded without their best player playing at his best.
The Warriors won this game with Curry as their fifth-leading scorer. Draymond Green, who usually never shoots, recognized the moment and gave Golden State 17 points. Kevon Looney's 18 rebounds gave the Warriors a plus-17 margin on the glass. Andrew Wiggins defended Luka Doncic brilliantly. The list goes on and on. Even rookie Moses Moody had a nice second-quarter stretch. Nemanja Bjelica played some of the best defense of his life.
Steve Kerr's mantra since he took over the Warriors has been "strength in numbers." He plays deep rotations even into the playoffs and emphasizes engagement from every player on his team. That's why he runs this motion offense. But the last two Golden State championships were ultimately a function of talent. The Warriors had more of it than anyone else. In a sense, that's still true. It just isn't the talent of one megastar carrying them forward. It's an entire roster with diverse skillsets carrying different loads as needed. Heck, you almost could be forgiven for forgetting that they played Game 5 without three key contributors (Otto Porter Jr., Andre Iguodala and Gary Payton II).
In a sense, this is the sort of Finals run Kerr has always wanted to make. No Warriors team has ever lined up better with his coaching philosophy. This was truly a team win, and if they get four more, it will be a team championship.
Live by the Luka, die by the Luka
Golden State's mantra is strength in numbers, and that isn't a philosophy Dallas is capable of sharing. The Mavericks are something closer to "one is the loneliest number," because their entire roster-building philosophy depends on Luka Doncic being the best player on the floor. If he isn't creating good shots, everything else falls apart. And that was evident throughout this game.
It's not a coincidence that when Doncic started this game 2-of-14 from the field, the Mavericks fell behind by as many as 25 points. The Warriors threw aggressive doubles at him throughout the first quarter betting that if they could cut of his shooters, Dallas had so little ball-handling that they could either generate a turnover on the pass or rotate back into position before the Mavericks hurt them. That bet was largely a success. It took Doncic more than a half to finally solve the Golden State defense. He made eight of his last 14 shots, and that 25-point deficit fell to single digits, but it wasn't enough. Yes, Spencer Dinwiddie had a stellar game, but so much of that relied upon his spotty track record. The Warriors don't defend him like a star. He was, in essence, a role player who had a hot night.
If Dallas had another star to share some of Doncic's burden, the Mavericks might have been able to endure Luka's slow start long enough for his hot finish to matter. The Warriors obviously had the sort of support structure in place for Curry. Boston has it for Jayson Tatum in Jaylen Brown. Until the Mavericks find that, they aren't going to win a title. Michael Jordan didn't win until Scottie Pippen was ready. LeBron James couldn't do it alone in Cleveland. The Mavericks have done well to surround Doncic with an array of shooters and defenders. It won't mean a thing until Luka has a sidekick.
Return of the Klay
Curry may have walked away with the Western Conference Finals MVP trophy, but this was Klay Thompson's night. He led the Warriors with 32 points on eight made 3-pointers. After the game, he joked that he should've had 10. Given his history, that feels low. We're talking about someone who once made 14 in a game, after all, and he was scorching hot in a critical game. He was so good that you'd hardly even know what it took to get here.
Forget about the two missed seasons. There were moments in the past few months in which it looked like Thompson would struggle to stay on the floor in games like this. His defense has definitely dipped. From Valentine's Day through March 22, he shot below 40 percent from the field. There was a very real fear that we'd never get to see this version of Thompson. Even in this series, while we've seen him post some big second halves, we hadn't seem him put together a killer front-to-back game like this.
It couldn't have been more fitting. Golden State's bid to win the 2019 Finals effectively ended when Thompson tore his ACL. Now, their trip to the 2022 Finals is coming thanks to perhaps the best game of Thompson's postseason. After two years away, one of the greatest heat checks in NBA history will take his talents to the league's biggest stage and compete for his fourth ring.