The expectations for these Golden State Warriors have reached a fever pitch higher than any championship-caliber season. There's nothing that can be replicated here. The dynasty that are those San Francisco Giants? They were never this good, this sustainably great, and downright nasty. Stephen Curry is their version of Buster Posey but with much more charisma, much more flair, and the team is running laps around the entire league. The Warriors hold one of the greatest point differentials of all time. OF ALL TIME. This is not a drill. It has been the greatest Warriors season of all time and it has coalesced into the most hyped and anticipated postseason in Bay Area sports in the past several decades.
The New Orleans Pelicans roll into town on Saturday afternoon and we have ourselves a dandy. For pure basketball fans, we are lucky the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't sneak their way in. Points records might have been broken if Enes Kanter kept swiveling his head from three-point line to the basket in turbo speed. Instead, we have a finally healthy Pelicans squad that's using a superb offense built on Anthony Davis and spacing to propel their offense to new heights.
It's hard to gauge just how good they are now as compared to earlier in the season because of the injuries. Jrue Holiday is only playing past a leg injury that kept him out for several months. Ryan Anderson fought through an MCL sprain but looks to be regaining his shooting touch. Eric Gordon is perpetually battling through something and Anthony Davis has had to manage lots of nicks and bruises along the way.
I don't want to say they've hit their strides because those are usually reserved for great teams, but as an average team in a tough Western Conference, the Pelicans have certainly inspired much more confidence than most eight-seeds in recent memory.
As for the Warriors? They've been doing nothing short of messing around for the past month. Beyond a couple flashes here and there, the defense has been lacking and the offense slowed to a halt when Stephen Curry isn't busy scorching the Earth. Then when it mattered, in the game against Memphis Grizzlies where the Warriors could kick them out of a two-seed, the energy returned, the nastiness revived, and a team we saw feast on offenses earlier in the season unleashed. And here they are with 16 wins left to grab ahold of. Let's take a look at the tape at some of the key points.
Edit: My video catch application on my mac got lost in a reboot and I was unable to use a new one without it constantly crashing so I'll be doing a breakdown in words. Believe me, I watched too many Pelicans games, too many Tyreke Evans weirdo plays, and I'm just as heartbroken as you are that there aren't moving pictures.
1. Small lineup devastation
I think this speaks mostly to Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston. Monty Williams loves to run lineups, especially at the end of halves and games with Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis. If they do that, the Warriors can play Draymond Green at the five, and let the other players fly around. That is where Livingston excels in the open court with the extra spacing. Both are intelligent cutters and if the Warriors can explode for runs with either Curry or Klay out for a few minutes, that's where the wins will be made.
2. Splash Brothers and Screens
Jrue Holiday has just returned but is still having some trouble navigate through a thicket of limbs also known as screens. Steve Kerr will assuredly use Curry off the ball when the bench filters in, forcing Holiday to run through Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green over and over again. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon are mediocre at best, generously, off the ball and Quincy Pondexter is perhaps the best perimeter defender in the starting lineup. The Warriors backcourt should have zero trouble scoring in bunches this series.
3. Bench Pop
There will be games when the Splash Brothers slow down. This is normal and it might even happen in this series. For some weird reason only known to no one, Curry might start a game 3-10. That's where this whole season has headed to, though. The surprises and improvements haven't stopped coming and the bench could use an injection of offense from anyone, be it Leandro Barbosa elongated layups, Andre Iguodala pull-up 3s, or Marreese Speights midrange jumpers. Here's thinking there will be a Speights game.
1. Stopping Anthony Davis-Ryan Anderson double pick-and-roll. Here is perhaps the most key aspect of this series. The Pelicans can't play defense but man, can they score. This is one of my favorite players in the entire league and it cannot be guarded when executed correctly. Monty Williams, oft-criticized coach, runs variations of this set as well but he mostly allows Anderson to pop while Davis runs freely down the middle. With Eric Gordon, a 44.8 percent 3-point shooter this season, and Pondexter (37.3 percent) spacing the floor, things can get a little scary.
2. Tyreke Evans bullyball on switches. When the Warriors go small on offense, the Pelicans have quite an answer in the form of Evans. He isn't the greatest decision-maker but he bullied Terrence Jones on the Houston Rockets to several buckets after switches. The Rockets tried to employ the switchy defense but Evans punished the weaker guards and slower forwards to no end. This is strictly a Klay Thompson - Draymond Green challenge.
3. Awareness on spacing. The Warriors fell asleep way too many times in their last meeting, treating it like a scrimmage, allowing four Pondexter threes and Anderson seven attempts. And now here is perhaps the most homer-thing I've ever said as a Warriors blogger. I think the extra awareness, preparation all season for this moment, this series, and this postseason leads to the Warriors absolutely stifling Anthony Davis. I think Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, and a whole host of players digging, doubling, and frenetically switching, turns into Davis' worst nightmare in his first playoff series as a 22 year old in the NBA.
I could be entirely wrong. He is a very good player right now and will go down as one of the greatest of all time. I just think the Golden State Warriors are eons above the New Orleans Pelicans at this point, regardless of the issues the Pels can give them. The Warriors know what's at stake. They're not going to let it slip away now.
Golden State Warriors in 5.
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