Pelicans Surge Late, But Warriors Hold Them Off to Take Game 1

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Published: April 18, 2015

For much of the first three quarters, the Warriors exposed all of the weaknesses that every Pelicans fan already knew this team had. In the first half, the Warriors scored 28 points off of layups or dunks, and the Pelicans didn’t do much to remedy that problem in the third quarter, giving up 3 more dunks and 2 more layups. Add to that some stretches where the ball just wouldn’t move and the perimeter players missed wide open jumpers, and we saw the worst of the Pelicans for much of the first 36 minutes. But then, things began to change.

The Pelicans went on a 7-0 run to end the 3rd, capped by a 40-footer by Quincy Pondexter. Then, the Pelicans scored the first 7 to begin the 4th quarter, and before you knew it, this was a game again. But then Stephen Curry came back in and the Warriors got the lead back up to 17 in the blink of an eye. The Pelicans didn’t back down, as Anthony Davis finally got into a groove, scoring 20 in the final quarter. The difference was clear – Omer Asik was off the floor and there was infinitely more space for Davis to operate with Anderson stretching the defense.

It wasn’t enough to propel the Pelicans to victory, as the Warriors held on to win 106-99, but it gives Monty Williams a lot to think about before we get to Game 2 on Monday. Another thing Monty will have to think about is Tyreke Evans, who went to the locker room in the second quarter with a knee contusion and did not return. Evans played 12 minutes and finished with 1 point, 1 rebound, and 0 assists. He also got lost a couple of times on the defensive end and that led to some easy Golden State layups. Now, we don’t know how injured Evans is or how long this injury will keep him out, but we do know that he tends to struggle against teams with rim protectors and Bogut is a great one.

How Asik played and how Tyreke played will lead to some tough decisions for Monty moving forward. We often paint narratives about a player that are too simple – a guy is either great or he is terrible. But the truth is that certain guys match up well against other teams and horribly against others. This is not an ideal matchup for Asik or Evans. The truth is that this Warriors team is going to put up points regardless of who Monty puts on the floor, so to have a chance the Pelicans will have to outscore them and they can’t do that with Asik on the floor. Evans could be a force as a drive and kick guy, but the Pelicans wings will have to knock down their open looks.

All in all, it is what you would expect from a team’s first playoff game in 4 years, and the first playoff game period for three major players. The Pelicans were uptight and got blown out of the gym early. But once they made a few adjustments and the new guys got the butterflies out of their stomach, they were able to hang with the best team in basketball. According to Monty after the game, “AD figured a few things out.”

That’s all this writer was hoping for from this series anyway.

Notes and Observations

– Norris Cole didn’t shoot well, but he played terrific on both ends of the court. He was a scrappy defender who always looked to push the ball on the other end and finished with a 6:0 assist to turnover ratio. Tyreke is a much better player in a vacuum, but in a lot of ways Cole helps the Pelicans more in this series. The Warriors can’t just drop below screens with him or sag ten feet off of him when he doesn’t have the ball. He also is more active and aware on the defensive end. In 12 minutes, Tyreke was -12. In 33 minutes, Cole was +12. And I don’t think that was a fluke.

– Jrue Holiday looked solid in his 21 minutes, giving Curry and Livingston some trouble on the defensive end, but he couldn’t get it going with his jumper. Monty said he was still on a minutes restriction, but he didn’t say what Jrue was limited to. My guess is 25 minutes, judging by the San Antonio game. He just didn’t get to 25 today because Cole was playing so well, and was the better option.

– Quincy Pondexter was ultra aggressive today, and while that led to some head scratching attempts, it resulted in far more good than bad. He took the three’s when they were open and was able to attack the rim when the Warriors closed out hard. The most surprising thing was his rebounding, as he led the Pels in defensive boards with 9. He also made the extra pass, which is a necessity against this quick rotating Warriors defense. 20 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers – all for the low, low price of Austin Rivers.

– Anthony Davis was clearly pressing to start this game, and just like we saw early in the Spurs game, he turned the ball over a bit and fumbled the ball more than we are accustomed to. But by the 4th quarter, we saw the MVP candidate again and that was because he had the space to operate. The Pelicans are just as hard to defend as the Warriors when they have 4 shooters around AD. If they go with Anderson over Asik next to AD, you can expect Davis to keep posting numbers like he did tonight (35 points, 9 boards, 4 blocks) minus the bad (5 turnovers, 4 fouls).

– Ryan Anderson was not good (1-6), but the Pelicans were +1 with him on the floor because of the threat he provides. Steve Kerr talked a lot prior to this game about making sure his guys knew where Anderson is at all times. That has real value. And while Anderson is awful on the defensive end, Asik wasn’t much better and the Warriors don’t have low post offensive weapons up front that you have to worry about. I said on the last podcast that he will play more minutes in this series than Asik and Ajinca combined. Right now he trails 25-21, but Monty should remedy that moving forward.

– Stephen Curry was off from deep tonight and the Warriors uncharacteristically missed a bunch of free throws. Not to take anything away from the Pelicans, but I don’t know if this was really a 7 point game. I think the Pelicans will play better moving forward, but Golden State will too.

– The biggest downside of Jrue being limited and Tyreke getting injured is that Gordon had to be more than just a spot-up shooter and he struggled in those other areas. He was just 1-7 from 2, with 6 of those being shots he had to create, and he also had 5 turnovers. Gordon is a terrific catch-and-shoot guy, but the numbers say he is one of the worst guards in the league once you make him dribble two times or more, and I am sure the Warriors know that.

– Ajinca and Cunningham both played well, and while they can steal some minutes from Asik as well, they still aren’t a big enough threat to give AD the space he needs. Trying Ajinca next to Asik on the second unit could be fun, and it might give the Pelicans a huge advantage, seeing as that Warriors second unit lacks the shooters and loves to get into the paint. Meanwhile, on the other end, the Pels can run some pick and pop/roll with Ajinca and have Asik there to clean up the misses if his man helps out.

– AD’s stats:

Asik On the court: 3-9 from the field, 6 point, Team was -13

Asik Off: 10-14 from the field, 29 points, Team was +9

– We can look at this game a million different ways, but the truth is that the Warriors are the superior team, especially at home. This is a team that went 39-2 at home with a +14 point differential throughout the year. All things considered, this was a positive showing for the Pelicans, and that is what this experience is all about. This team is in the initial stage of starting a run towards contention, and they are getting all the bugs out now – or at least as many of them as they can. They got punched in the mouth early, and now they know what playoff basketball is all about. They will never be surprised about it again. Better that than to have them sitting at home right now.

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