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Nevius: Warriors riding culture of confidence in playoff run

Whose appearance in the second game of the Warriors-Mavericks Western Conference Finals was more surprising?

Adele?

Or Moses Moody?

Adele, the 15-time Grammy winner, is, of course, just part of the silly sideshow that rolls into town when the games get a national focus. Rappers and movie stars show up at courtside seats to be spotted by TV cameras.

But now that the series heads to Dallas for Game 3 with the Warriors up 2-0, Moody tells an interesting story.

He’s a guy who hadn’t even been on the floor in almost 10 days. He averaged just over four points a game in the regular season. He made cameo, mop-up appearances in two games in the Memphis series.

But unexpectedly, Moody was thrown into crunchtime in Friday night’s 126-117 win. Moody’s nine-and-a-half minute stint didn’t fill up the stat line — he had a layup and an assist — but the 19-year-old rookie definitely looked like he belonged.

“For him to come in and step up and play big minutes in the Western Conference Finals and help us pull out a win is huge,” said Jordan Poole (23 points, five assists.) “Shout out to Moses. That goes back to the credit from the vets ... and the coaching staff ... for instilling the confidence in him.”

That’s the real story here. We’ve now spent over a month, and two playoff matchups, attempting to put our finger on that thing, that special something that has carried the Warriors through this.

And, as pundits are starting to admit — and ignore Charles Barkley, he’s just trolling you — this isn’t one magical, lightning-in-a-bottle season. This is a continuation of a collective culture that extends back to 2015, the first championship and the start of five consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

That team was over, we were told. All things must pass. Time to rebuild.

Instead, they’re back.

This year’s team is not the biggest. It is certainly not the youngest.

But so far we’ve seen playoff opponents wilt like hothouse tulips in the final minutes. Meanwhile the Warriors — especially the transcendent Steph Curry — make one dagger shot after another.

The difference? Poole had a thought.

“I think what makes us special is that every single player has confidence in themselves to play as a team, to step up and make big shots and big plays,” he said. “We ride the confidence as a team.”

And throwing Moody out there, in what must have been a “Who, me?” moment for him, is the kind of gesture that created this atmosphere.

It was the kind of faith that brought Poole back from the G League to playing critical moments in these playoffs. He’s gone from nondescript No. 28 draft pick to an absolutely essential, game-turning star in the making.

“Coach wouldn’t throw us out there if he didn’t believe in us and trust us,” Poole said. “He gives us the opportunity to play freely.”

Of course, the ultimate template is dogged, militantly unflashy Kevon Looney, who is now hearing cries of “Looooooooooon!” from the stands.

And yet, as Steve Kerr said Friday night, when he joined the team it looked as though Looney would never be a factor. After two injury-plagued years, “We didn’t pick up his option because we had really not seen him play.”

But in his third year, playing for a new contract and maybe for his NBA career, Looney made one of those typical Warriors-roster improvement jumps.

“He had a great year,” Kerr said. “It’s like ‘Uh-oh, we might lose him.’”

Of course, they re-signed him — and Looney has not only played well, but become a fan and locker room favorite.

“Loon is kind of everybody’s favorite guy,” Kerr said. “We needed Loon’s leadership, his size, his knowledge, his wisdom.”

And Looney? He just needed some confidence. Never one to fill up the hoop, he had a career-high 21 points in Game 2. Add that to the 22 rebounds in the clinching Game 6 of the Memphis series and you’ve got the personification of this undersized, over-performing team.

When he made a rare trip to the free-throw line Friday night, some wit in the stands started an “MVP!” chant. And the rest of the crowd picked it up, creating a nice moment.

For everyone except the typically modest Looney, who worried he’d let everyone down.

“That was nerve-wracking,” he said. “I haven’t shot a free throw in a game in like three weeks.”

No worries. He made the single attempt.

And finally, a we’re-not-worthy moment must be saved for Curry (32 points, five assists, eight rebounds).

With one minute left, at the conclusion of a remarkable comeback from 19 points down, Curry launched a three.

And he had the audacity, and ferocious confidence, to mouth the words “night night” while the ball was still in the air.

When it hit the cords, the Mavs were done. Curry made a pillow with his hands and mimed sending them to bed.

Game 3 is in Dallas Sunday. Their arena is famously loud and partisan. And surely the Mavericks will play better than they have so far.

It’s no secret what’s betraying them. They’ve shot more than 40 three-pointers in each of the first two games. Some of them drop, as they did in the first half of Game 2, but when the game gets tight, they aren’t.

There’s a cure for that, Jason Kidd said.

“You have to understand. If you miss four in a row, you can’t take the fifth,” he said. “That just puts too much stress on yourself and the team.”

Causing you to lose confidence. And confidence, as we’ve learned, is important.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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