Louis Armstrong might have sung, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” but I don’t think the Golden State Warriors will spend any time longing for the days when Anthony Davis was between them and moving forward in the NBA playoffs.
Still, after three games that seemed to be going in the wrong direction, Steve Kerr’s bunch put it all together (mostly) in sweeping the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night in New Orleans.
This was the closest they’ve come in their brief playoff run to looking like the regular-season Warriors, sharing the ball crisply and often, hitting most of their open 3-pointers, and forcing New Orleans into bad shots on multiple consecutive possessions. That’s how they suddenly take a close game and blow it open, and they can do it several times per game.
The Warriors do have a maddening habit of letting teams back in games, however. Steve Kerr uses the word “reckless” in almost every press conference these days. Kerr used one of the most effective timeouts of the season two minutes into the third quarter after the Pelicans cut a 13-point lead to nine with the aid of a couple of Golden State turnovers. ESPN’s microphones allowed us to hear him tell his team, “Playoff games are won with brains and heart. We just played two minutes with no brains and no heart.”
The Warriors came out of that timeout and went on a 16-2 run.
This playoff series was a coming-out party for Draymond Green. It’s tempting to say that his free-agency value is increasing with each game, but the truth of the matter is that NBA GMs already know how good he is — it’s just the 42 knuckleheads who left him off their Defensive Player of the Year ballots who need an education on that. Green scored four of the Warriors’ first five baskets Saturday night, and assisted on the other. He forced New Orleans to cover him at the 3-point line, as you see in the NBA.com video linked below, when Eric Gordon had to take a step toward Green and left Thompson open:
I just saw this on NBA: http://t.co/Y40UeiPpAO via @NBA
— Crossover Chronicles (@crossoverNBA) April 26, 2015
Meanwhile, on the defensive end, it seemed as though Green was always guarding the guy with the ball. Often that was Davis, and while the Pelicans’ future Hall-of-Famer got his points, none of them came easily. No lobs, no putbacks, and only one dunk which came off a Warriors’ turnover.
While the pesky Pelicans made it interesting in all four games, the Warriors were consistently able to get defensive stops when they needed them, and Steph Curry continued to be unguardable. His 3-point shots get all the attention, but he’s good for three or four “rewind the DVR” plays per game. Saturday night he deked Davis, the league’s best shot-blocker, and tossed a hook shot over him from the low block.
New Orleans stayed in the game because Davis was also unstoppable, hitting jumpers from all over the court, and Eric Gordon had a great game as well. Both players, however, were hitting contested shots, and the Warriors’ game plan is to take away the easy stuff. This is why the Pelicans weren’t able to finish the comeback they gallantly attempted in the fourth quarter.
Many people around the country are getting their first extended look at the Warriors right now. For me, this was by far the most I’ve seen of New Orleans, and I have to say I came away very impressed. In the mid-third quarter, as the Warriors were opening up a 24-point lead, ESPN’s Jon Barry opined that the Pelicans had “let go of the rope.” Nothing could be further from the truth. They cut that lead down to seven with a minute to go, and while they were one Steph Curry short of a miracle, they are a talented bunch and certainly on an upward track.
One thing about the playoffs is that you need them to finish before you can gain a fuller perspective on what just happened. While right now we could look at the Warriors’ inability to truly shake the Pelicans in any of the four games as Golden State’s weakness, we might be looking back in a month and praising the Pels for playing the Warriors tougher than anyone else in the West. Last year that was the case, as San Antonio barely survived its first-round matchup with Dallas, and cruised to the Finals.
Anthony Davis is a problem, and no other team the Warriors are going to play in these playoffs has a player like him… not until a possible Finals matchup with Cleveland. The Clippers, the Spurs, and the Grizzlies are all loaded with great players who will present their own problems, but luckily for Golden State, 6-10 guys who can hit anything from 20 feet in are a scarce commodity. It seems obvious to me that if you replaced Davis on the Pelicans with almost any other 4 in the game, the Warriors would have held New Orleans to about 85 points and won every game by at least 20. Like Curry, Davis gets points that even other star players don’t get.
The next challenge for the Warriors is a long layoff before round two begins. They had a nine-day hiatus at the All-Star break (except for Curry, Thompson, Kerr and the staff). They came out of it losing two of their first four games, but they were on the road at Indiana and Cleveland, so whether it was due to the layoff or not is impossible to know.
Overall, though, rest at this time of the season has to be good, and the coaching staff having time to prepare for what looks like an inevitable matchup with Memphis is also a positive. The fans, however, will be “jonesing” for the next hit of Warriors action, but they can console themselves with highlights from a first-round sweep.