Pelicans Battle Tremendously, but Fade Down the Stretch in 97-87 loss to Warriors

Published: April 21, 2015

If you are not extremely proud of this Pelicans team after watching the game tonight, then stop reading now, because you must be on the wrong team’s website.

For 44 out of 48 minutes, this 45 win, 8th seed New Orleans team battled the 67 win, league-best Warriors to practically a draw (88-86). For the last four minutes, a lack of experience, depth, and stamina allowed Golden State to go on a 9-1 run, ultimately winning 97-87.

The Pelicans will head back to New Orleans down two games to none, just as most people expected against a team that finished the regular season 39-2 at home. What few people expected is that New Orleans stayed within 5 points of Golden State late in both contests. The Warriors, a top-10 regular season team of all-time based on scoring margin, were legitimately challenged by a young, scrappy Pelicans team in their own house for two consecutive games. That is a huge victory for this New Orleans franchise, and a major testament to the preparedness and game plan of head coach Monty Williams and his staff.

Less than an hour before tip-off, the Pelicans announced that Jrue Holiday would not play. Tyreke Evans both played and started, but it was clear early on that his left knee was hurting, as he didn’t have the same lift he usually does. Ryan Anderson played under 10 minutes, as he has continued to struggle mightily ever since returning from his injury about a month ago. Ajinca played under 5 minutes, as Coach Williams could never find the right match-up for him against a team that plays small as much as Golden State. After reading just this paragraph, no reasonable person would give the Pelicans any real chance against a juggernaut like the Warriors. Yet there they were, giving the league’s best defense and second best offense everything they could handle until the very end, when the short-handed Pelicans simply ran out of gas.

I’ll discuss what I liked and didn’t like about tonight’s game below, but the above needed to be said first. The New Orleans Pelicans players and coaching staff deserve so much credit for the way they competed tonight. It has been a real pleasure to watch this team play for their first two postseason games, and I cannot wait to see what they will be able to do with a fired up home crowd behind them in the Smoothie King Center.

Game Notes

  •  In the first quarter of Game 1, the Pelicans found themselves in a 15 point hole, which was one that they could not climb out of. Tonight, the exact opposite happened, as it was instead the Warriors who trailed by double digits (28-17) after a quarter of play. Golden State shooters were being chased all over the perimeter, and though some of those shots were reasonably open, they were hardly set and composed right before launching. The Warriors scored 13 of their 17 first quarter points via fast break opportunities, an area in which the Pelicans still struggle and Golden State is just so tough to stop.
  • Norris Cole single-handedly kept the Evans-Cole-Cunningham-Anderson-Ajinca unit that started the second quarter from getting totally destroyed. The Pelicans needed Cole to step up big without Jrue Holiday, and he certainly delivered in the second quarter. Unfortunately, he scored just two points on 1-7 shooting in the other three quarters combined and was a complete non-factor offensively in the second half. Still, while Cole has always been a plus defender, his offense has certainly exceeded the expectations of many when he was acquired by New Orleans.
  • Tyreke Evans, man. What a fighter. He truly represents what this Pelicans team wants to be remembered for this season. No matter what the injury, if his body is structurally sound and not susceptible to re-injury, he is going to be out there leading his troops. Evans clearly was hurting today, but that didn’t stop him from tallying 16 points on 13 shots, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers – all pretty much on one leg. As Coach Williams noted in his post-game press conference, his defense was also strong for the most part tonight. Really cannot say enough about the example he has set for all of New Orleans’ young guys, including Anthony Davis.
  • Speaking of AD – 45 minutes for the Pelicans’ franchise player tonight, and you can be sure he would have played all 48 if Monty asked him to do it. Davis was clearly gassed as the 4th quarter progressed, and against a team as fast-paced as the Warriors, who could blame him? He finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. The man is hungry for a victory. A special performance may be on the horizon for Game 3.
  • As poorly as Asik played in the first 6 quarters of this series, he was an essential piece of the Pelicans’ ability to keep the game close in the second half tonight. From the start of the second half until the 4 minute mark in the 4th, the Pelicans outscored the Warriors 34-33. Asik played just over 11 minutes of that 20-minute stretch, pulling down 8 rebounds (5 of which were on the offensive glass). Just because Golden State poses a pretty bad match-up for him doesn’t mean that there is no place for him at all in this series; his interior defense can still provide major help in the right circumstances.
  • We saw elite Eric Gordon and brutal Eric Gordon all in one night tonight, though the latter wasn’t necessarily his fault. This season has cemented what Gordon is now – an elite catch-and-shoot guy who moves well without the ball to find space beyond the arc to knock down shots. When he is forced to be a primary ball-handler, things unravel quickly. Tonight was a case study in that regard; Gordon made 5 of his 10 three-point attempts, but aside from that scored 8 points on 9 shots (zero free throw attempts) and dished out just two assists compared to four turnovers. He is an essential piece of this Pelicans squad as currently constructed, but as soon as he puts the ball on the floor, the results are usually poor. Make no mistake though, tonight was a strong game for Gordon overall.
  • The Pelicans turned the ball over just three times in the first half (they forced 9 Warriors turnovers), gave up only 5 second chance points, were +10 in points in the paint, and still trailed by 3 points at halftime. Sometimes, even when you do a bunch of things right, you still come up short. That’s what a team as good as Golden State can do to so many teams in this league. In the second half, the Pelicans got sloppy on offense, but tightened up the defense to hang in the game until things broke down late. Nothing to be ashamed of for New Orleans tonight. Tip your cap and get ready to play the league’s best squad twice in your house.

Game Three of this best-of-seven series is on Thursday night at 8:30 PM in the Smoothie King Center. No empty seats, y’all. Make Monty think the noise level in his own team’s arena is illegal. Get excited! PLAYOFF BASKETBALL RETURNS TO NEW ORLEANS IN LESS THAN 72 HOURS.


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