The Night That Changed the Pelicans and Warriors Fates Forever

April 24th, 2012 is a date that should be remembered by basketball fans in both New Orleans and Golden State forever, but if you ask either fan base its significance, they will likely draw a blank. For both teams, it was the 65th game in a strike-shortened 66 game season that had essentially ended for both squads weeks earlier. Golden State and the Hornets (at that time) were playing out the stretch in a lost season that saw them each with 40+ losses going into that game.

Both were looking to the future, and to ping pong balls more specifically, as each team was “resting” some fairly significant players that may or may not have been injured. The Warriors were in a uniquely precarious position, as they owed their pick to the Utah if it did not fall into the top 7. Going into that game, they had the 8th worst record in the league, and a win would almost guarantee that they lost the pick. Meanwhile, New Orleans was tied with the Wizards for the 2nd worst record in the NBA, just one game worse than Cleveland, who sat at 21 wins.

The Warriors were at home that night, and their fans were fully aware of the situation that their team was in, as evidenced by the cheers heard coming from the stands when New Orleans eventually won. Though he never fully admitted it, Mark Jackson was also fully aware, as evidenced by his rather unusual rotations that night. Charles Jenkins got 42 minutes that evening, Jeremy Tyler got 40, and the immortal Mickell Gladness got 30 at center. Meanwhile, Richard Jefferson only got 21 and Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush only received 28 and 17 respectively, despite being Golden State’s best players all night. Thompson and Rush combined for 31 points on 21 shots while the rest of the Warriors scored 50 points on 58 shots combined.

The Hornets, meanwhile, went all out with the players they had. Marco Bellinelli was besating that night, scoring 23 points on just 14 shots (including the game winner) against the team that drafted him. Gustavo Ayon had a typically efficient performance, putting up 13 points, 7 boards, 4 assists, and 4 blocks in 29 minutes at center. The Pelicans best defender and rebounder, Al-Farouq Aminu, got 36 minutes that night and Carl Landry played his typical 6th man role, dropping 14 off the bench on 10 attempts.

The game was close all night, with Golden State leading much of the way. With 3:05 left, the Warriors led 77-71, but then a handful of Hornets took over, and Mark Jackson was more than happy to let them. Coming down the stretch, the Hornets’ lineup consisted of Greivis Vasquez, Belinelli, Aminu, Landry, and Gustavo Ayon. Meanwhile, Jackson played the following lineup down the stretch — Chris Wright, Charles Jenkins, Richard Jefferson, Mikki Moore, and Mickell Gladness.

One team was trying to win that game down the stretch, and it wasn’t the home team. When asked after the game about his odd finishing unit, Jackson responded, ““I thought it was a great opportunity to see what these other guys have. It’s easy to do it when the season is over with and it’s easy to do it during summer league, but I really wanted to see what they could do against NBA players.”

How convenient.

The Hornets won the game by 2, and ended the night and the season tied for the 3rd worst record in the NBA with the Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the Raptors wound up winning their final game of the season and the Warriors finished the year tied for the 7th worst record in the league.

The rest is history. The Warriors went on to win a coin flip that essentially allowed them to keep their pick, while the Pelicans lost a coin flip that would eventually lead to them getting the first overall pick, and a guy named Anthony Davis.

While the Hornets got the best player in that draft, the Warriors might have earned the best grade. They had 3 of the top 35 picks in that draft and walked out with Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green. Those three have combined to play over 5000 minutes for one of the best regular season teams of all time this year, and Green and Barnes specifically are two of the biggest reasons why Golden State has the top defense in the NBA.

If the Warriors would have won that game, and lost that pick, things might have been so different. One could imagine a scenario where they would have looked to speed up the process a little more that summer, knowing that they didn’t have another elite prospect coming in to put next to Curry and Thompson. They might have even traded 30 and 35 to move up in the draft or as part of a package to get a veteran. No Barnes could very well mean no Green for the Warriors that summer. Without the heroics of Marco Belinelli and Gustavo Ayon, the Warriors might look very different right now.

Same goes for the Pelicans, as a loss there likely means that the Cavs get the ping ping combination that landed New Orleans Anthony Davis. (On a side note, can you imagine how scary a Kyrie-AD-Lebron trio would be right now?!) In all likelihood, New Orleans is walking out of that draft with Bradley Beal or Thomas Robinson instead of AD, to pair up with eventual 10th overall pick Austin Rivers. Honestly, imagine a Robinson/Rivers duo selected with the 4th and 10th picks, respectfully. Worst draft of all time, all things considered?

But it didn’t play out that way, for either team. The Hornets did what they did that entire season – tried to win up until that final buzzer. And the Warriors did what they had to do in order to give themselves the brightest future possible. And it worked out for both teams. When these two teams meet up on Saturday, we have guys like Chris Wright, Darryl Watkins, Jerome Dyson, and Dominic McGuire to thank for it.

What a strange league.

10 responses to “The Night That Changed the Pelicans and Warriors Fates Forever”

  1. Just curious, Mana Michaelmara:
    I know you’ve not like Harrison Barnes in the past.  Have your opinions on him changed?  Has he developed into anything more in your opinion?

  2. Caffeinedisaster I think Kerr is using him about as optimally as one can. No, I would not like him in our system, or in most systems for that matter. I think he is an average wing who is in the perfect system and situation for his game right now.

  3. There was a post recalling some complaing about this. I remember it (post and complaining). I saw no big practical difference in odds, and you just let it play out.
    Fan reactions are great. They are not rational bases for argument, however.

  4. Jason Calmes I will admit that I was furious after that game. So glad it worked out differently than I had imagined.

  5. Now just imagine if the T-Wolves had stunk that year like they were suppose to and we were able to get Lillard, who Hornets brass really coveted, instead of the god awful Austin Rivers.
    Best quote I heard about Austin pre draft was from Jay Bilas who said  “He thinks he’s Kobe just minus the size, athletic ability and skill set.”

  6. Wow…just was looking for Kahwi-related block/ funny edit of the commercial when AD blocks that kid driveway, and stumbled across something that ironically time-links the past to the present:

    -In the last game of the 2014-2015 regular season, with 49 sec left, and the Pels clinging to a 101-94 lead, Anthony Davis gets a huge block vs Kawhi Leonard…his 500th of his career (he got 501 moments later with 36.5 sec left on Diaw)

    -In the first game of the 2012-2013 season, in the first game of Anthony Davis’ career, he gets his first recorded block with 2:37 left in the second quarter against (drumroll………) KAWHI LEONARD!

  7. Awesome article.. Perspective and recap.. Wow!!! I remember how we were going to draft Robinson with the 4th pick…and then boom we won the lottery of all lotteries!
    AD.. Playoff AD.. Oh man I can’t wait to see playoff AD.. In a 7 game series.. We have a punchers chance!

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