The Dawn is Coming

Published: April 24, 2015

On March 31st, I booked a flight back to New Orleans landing at 7:20 PM on April 23rd to surprise my mother for her birthday on the 24th (today). At the time of my purchase, the Pelicans were 2 1/2 games back of the 42-32 Thunder at 39-34, so having the opportunity to also attend New Orleans’ first NBA playoff game in four years was hardly a secondary motivator for the trip.

Two weeks later, after the signature win of Anthony Davis’ short career thus far at home over the Spurs, the New Orleans Pelicans were improbably playoff-bound. Immediately after that incredible victory, I began searching all over the internet for the first round playoff schedule, in disbelief that I may actually be able get to a playoff game. Eventually, I figured out that the Pelicans’ home games would be on Thursday and Saturday night; my heart sank. If both games were to start at their normal 7 PM time, I would be lucky to catch the second half of Game 3 and was leaving New Orleans before the start of Game 4. Then, I saw the game time: Thursday, April 23rd at 8:30 PM. It was meant to be. Not only could I execute this surprise, but I could do so as a crazy, screaming fan at the Pelicans’ first home playoff game of the Anthony Davis era. Win or lose, it was perfect (or so I thought).

And for three quarters, it was. The surprise worked to perfection (see for yourself). The first three quarters could not have possibly gone better if you were a fan of the Pelicans (like about 99% of the fans in the Smoothie King Center were last night). Few if any of us expected to win this series, but heading into the fourth quarter of play, it just felt like this win was meant to happen. Every player on that New Orleans roster was 12 minutes away from their first playoff win as a member of the Pelicans.

Then the unthinkable happened.

I’ll spare you all the breakdown of the game itself because by now there are plenty of those circulating (including a strong one by our own Chris Romaguera), but in just a few minutes, suffice it to say that everything the Pelicans had worked so hard for 36 minutes to build came tumbling down. The offense stalled, Pelicans players stood and watched the Warriors jack up threes instead of finding a guy to box out, and before anyone could blink, the game was in overtime and rapidly drifting out of reach.

I don’t think that I have ever before felt the way I did leaving the SKC last night. The ride home was in complete silence. There was nothing to say. What could you say? The arena was absolutely ELECTRIC for the entire first three quarters. The jumbotron showed all of the Saints players (and head coach) in attendance before the start of the 4th quarter, and everyone was absolutely loving it. Earlier in the evening, the #1 ranked LSU Tigers baseball team knocked off the #2 Texas A&M Aggies by a score of 4-3. New Orleans was united, and it was time for the Pelicans to deliver the dagger and finish off a special night of sports for the city.

Of course, that didn’t happen. But we’re New Orleanians; we have felt heartbreak from our sports teams before. While it was simply impossible last night – I couldn’t even fall asleep until about 3 AM – I woke up this morning with a far greater ability to view the big picture. Here is what I see.

Remember Game 6 the 2013 NBA Finals that the Spurs led three games to two? Remember the Kawhi Leonard missed free throw before the infamous Ray Allen 3-pointer? The Spurs couldn’t bounce back from that, and LeBron’s Miami Heat won an incredible series in 7 games. From the moment San Antonio lost that 2013 NBA Finals series, that team was on a mission to avenge that defeat. They each felt the hurt that comes with being so close to victory, then having it brutally snatched away. And guess what? One year later, they’re The Champs. If you don’t think their 2013 loss played a major role in their 2014 success, you’re out of your mind.

That Leonard-Allen sequence is eerily similar to Anthony Davis’ missed free throw followed by the Stephen Curry 3-pointer. You can tell me the magnitude was different given the stakes, but I’d be inclined to disagree with you. For THIS Pelicans team, the game last night may as well have been Game 6 of the NBA Finals. For every single Pelicans player, last night was their first home playoff game in New Orleans; for guys like Gordon, Evans, and Davis, it was the first home NBA playoff game of their careers. You could see how badly they all wanted the win, regardless of whether or not winning the series was realistic (though you can bet each of those New Orleans players believed it was). If you think watching that collapse was difficult, try being directly involved in it. This is a loss that will stick with this team all through next season, and will likely remain in the back of their minds for far longer than that.

Given how the first three quarters of last night played out, it’s easy to forget the caliber of opponent the Pelicans are currently facing. By average margin of victory, the Golden State Warriors were the 8th best regular season team OF ALL TIME. They finished the regular season with a home record of 39-2! Here is what the 45-win, 8th seeded Pelicans have been able to do against that 67-win juggernaut over the first three games of this series:

Game 1: Trailed by just 4 points in the final minute (on the road)
Game 2: Tied at the end of 3 quarters, trailed by 2 with 4 minutes remaining (on the road)
Game 3: Up by 20 POINTS after 3 quarters

For three consecutive games, the Pelicans have fought to the finish with a team that has become accustomed to blowing out opponents and resting their starters in the 4th quarter. That isn’t just admirable; it’s damn impressive. Despite being clearly out-matched by a team far ahead of the Pels in both talent and the learning curve/growth trajectory/continuity level (the difference in minutes played together for the cores of both teams is simply massive), New Orleans has given Golden State absolutely everything it can handle. Doing so is a testament to both the team’s growth as well as their level of preparedness and quality of game plan going into the series (a result of good coaching). The Pelicans are one of the youngest teams in the league, and they have shown as much repeatedly down the stretch of the past two games (and a few of the in-game coaching decisions during these stretches deserve to be questioned as well). But just like the Spurs did, our young Pelicans will learn from everything they have experienced in this postseason, and they will unquestionably be better for it.

It is okay to hurt from this loss. I certainly still am. But Harvey Dent said it best – the night is darkest just before the dawn.

I promise you. The dawn is coming.


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