The Golden State Warriors haven’t faced a player like Anthony Davis in the playoffs before.
Wreaking havoc at the center position after DeMarcus Cousins’s injury, he’s one of the most athletic and skilled scorers in the league.
Davis can shoot it from the outside, but he does most of his damage around the basket: he’s quicker and can jump higher than almost every center in the league, and is a tremendous finisher. In the first round, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic was much too slow to contain Davis, who dominated the series.
Defensively, Davis is finally fulfilling his potential as a game-changing help defender and rim protector. Not only does he lock down bigs around the basket, he nullified Damian Lillard’s drives to the rim all series long.
The Warriors do have a bunch more tools to throw at Davis than the Blazers do. The first adjustment was to start small: they can’t allow Davis to have much time against slow centers. Putting Draymond Green and Kevin Durant on Davis is as good as it’s going to get defensively.
Some expected Draymond Green to struggle with Davis this series. Even though he’s a NBA Defensive Player of the Year, he can struggle with quick, skilled big men like Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns. Davis is better than either of these two: if anything, he should be able to just shoot over the top of Green with his height advantage, right?
Well, it didn’t happen in Game 1. Though Davis excelled early, he really struggled in the second quarter, when the Warriors built a twenty-point lead, going 0-4 from the field in that period. Draymond Green spent some time guarding him, generally doing pretty well. But in that second period, Kevon Looney was the defensive star: he has the length and quickness to frustrate Davis just enough.
But it wasn’t just one-on-one defense: all five Warriors on the court were attentive and disciplined. Davis is great at many things, but he’s only a middling passer and distributor (kind of like LaMarcus Aldridge in their first round series). The Warriors’ double-teams and tremendous length in the passing lanes were crucial factors in stalling the Pelicans’ offense. Draymond was matched up on Rajon Rondo a bunch of the time, and since Rondo is not a shooter, he could help double-team Davis quite a bit.
Davis finished with 21 points on 20 shots, which must have thrilled the Warriors. He just couldn’t get into a rhythm down the stretch. But expect the Pelicans to figure out a few things in the games to come.
We didn’t see much of Kevin Durant on Anthony Davis in Game 1, but we could definitely see it as the series progresses. He’s as tall and athletic as Davis, and as long as he plays smart, could be the Warriors’ best option.
If the Warriors can keep Anthony Davis under 30 points a game, the Pelicans don’t have enough other weapons to win games. It’s the key to the series, and the Warriors have the upper hand.