A lot of people will say “a series doesn’t start until the home team loses.” Generally, those are people who just watched their team lose two games to open a series.
With the deficit they are facing, down 0-2 at home, this is a must-win game for the Pelicans. Otherwise if they lose this game? It’s on to a Sunday marquee matchup elimination game four - and the Warriors have historically been pretty unstoppable in elimination games.
Pelicans win if...
...Anthony Davis is the best player on the court.
Let’s just ignore the Warriors’ side of the equation for a moment (we’ll come back to the Pelicans troubles covering the Warriors in a bit). Anthony Davis has not been nearly as overwhelming as he needs to be if the Pelicans want a shot at winning games in this series.
In the first two games, Davis has averaged 23 points per game on approximately 48% shooting; compare that to his in-season average of 28 points on 53% shooting and you can see what I mean. He needs to be better than he was in the regular season, not worse. The Warriors have gone small, and the combination of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney seems to be the right solution (so far) for the man with one eyebrow.
Look for the Pelicans coaching staff to work more looks into their gameplan for Davis, particularly if they can get him the ball in the low block. And Davis, for his part, will also need to play with a renewed aggression.
The Pelicans will also need to get some help from the ref whistles - which is an aspect the team can affect if they want to. The Pelicans don’t generally attract a ton of free throws; they ranked 17th in the league last year in free throw attempts per game, but the free throw discrepancy in the series so far has been decidedly in the Warriors favor, 59-20.
Maybe if the Pelicans didn’t foul on every single potential fast break...
Warriors win if...
They keep doing what they’ve been doing. Golden State won the first game by 22 points, and were up by double digits with under a minute remaining in game two prior to some ill-advised last-minute shenanigans.
The surplus of talented scoring wings is a problem on it’s own. With Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson running around out there, it stretches the limits of the Pelicans depth at the wings.
The team philosophy continues to confound opposing defenses. Without Curry, the Warriors beat the Pelicans by over 20 points to open the series. Now that Curry has returned, his floor spacing and infectious joy have catapulted the Warriors back into “unfair” territory - right where they belong.
And a word on the fouls, from the Warriors’ perspective - from Kevin Durant as transcribed by The Athletic:
But then he pointed to a Game 2 stat: 19 Pelicans fouls, 18 Warriors fouls. The only difference is where on the court they were called.
“I think if we were fouling them on drives to the rim, they would get foul shots,” Durant said. “But our fouls have been open court reaches. The fouls were (nearly) tied up last game. It’s the shooting fouls that’s the difference. We’re still fouling as much as they are, it’s just not shooting fouls.”
Warriors 120, Pelicans 111
...oh wait! I have tickets to game 5?!
Ok, Pelicans win, 111-110. We got jobbed by the refs though!