It is official. The Warriors will play the Pelicans in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs, starting on Saturday at Oracle Arena, where Golden State finished with the best home record in franchise history and the league, going 39-2.
Golden State has played New Orleans four times this season, and the Warriors went 3-1 in those games. What are some lessons from these four matchups?
In the first game, the Warriors won 112-85 at Oracle, back on December 14. Golden State absolutely massacred the Pelicans, even though Anthony Davis did Anthony Davis things in putting up a 30-15-3-3 stat line along with some nasty dunks. I was there; Steve Kerr remarked that "this was the best game we've played in a long time." This game was the epitome of the Warriors defense: Switching maniacally on the perimeter, forcing the other, less talented Pelicans to hit shots, and key in on Anthony Davis. Sure, Davis went wild, but the other Pelicans couldn't do much of anything, and the Warriors made good use of their home-court advantage in getting out in transition.
In the second game, the Warriors won again, 128-122 in overtime in New Orleans, as the last victory of a 16-game win streak. However, this game should not be taken as a total harbinger of how the series will turn out, because the Warriors were missing Andrew Bogut and the Pelicans were missing Davis. Stephen Curry did MVP things with critical buckets in overtime and Draymond Green made some vital plays as well. This game, though, could be important in figuring how the Warriors and Pelicans will play when Davis or Bogut is not on the floor; no player will play all 48 minutes of every game (neither team has Jimmy Butler, after all). Both teams went pretty small when their star big men were not on the court, and twice the Pelicans came back from large deficits to take the lead, including a 13-0 run to end the third quarter. Not every game is a cakewalk, and the Warriors will have to be sharp and frisky defensively when Bogut is off the floor in the series.
The third game of the season series saw Golden State winning again at Oracle, 112-96. Like the second matchup, the second game should not be taken as a token of what the series will turn out to be, because Klay Thompson did not play for the Warriors; the Pelicans were missing Davis again, along with starting center Omer Asik, starting forward Ryan Anderson, and guard Jrue Holiday (brother of Justin Holiday). Further, New Orleans lost Tyreke Evans to injury midway through the third quarter. However, this game could represent what we might see when the Pelicans' bench unit is on the floor. Stephen Curry controlled the game without hitting a lot of shots, going for 16 points and 11 assists; Harrison Barnes stepped up big-time with 22 points; and once again, the Warriors surrounded and suffocated the Pelicans defensively, forcing 21 turnovers and leading by as much as 27 in a game that was never going to be close.
The final game of the Warriors-Pelicans season series featured a tense, playoff-like atmosphere in New Orleans, as the Pelicans claimed their only victory in four tries against Golden State. The Pelicans were fighting for their playoff lives, while Golden State had nothing to play for. It should be noted, as Jeff Cheal wrote in the recap, that the Warriors really and truly wanted this game, if for nothing more than pride and to prove they are the best team. No Warrior rested; the team dove for loose balls, hustled back on defense, and tried to win. However, Anthony Davis was a monster all night long. Dude just breaks defensive game plans (like Curry). He, along with some critical calls, won this game for the Pelicans. When healthy and at home, the Pelicans may prove a big challenge for the Dubs.
Some key points from each game the Warriors and Pelicans played this season, and things to keep an eye on as the series starts on Saturday:
- The Warriors will absolutely dominate at home. It is a near-certainty that New Orleans will not win at Oracle, and the games may get embarrassing.
- The Pelicans have a good chance to take a game in New Orleans.
- Anthony Davis is an absolute beast, and the Warriors may need to double-team him exclusively — especially in New Orleans — to stop (or slow) him.
- The Pelicans' starting five — Davis, Anderson, Evans, Holiday, and Asik — have cohesiveness and good spacing on offense, and could at least go toe-to-toe with the Warriors. Their bench on the other hand ... Pelicans fans, shield your eyes when they're in.
- Stephen Curry controlled the tempo very well in each game, and his all-around play will definitely be a massive issue for New Orleans.