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Why NOLA Have A Chance Against GSW

This series doesn’t have to be over.

The Pelicans’ twitter account tweeted this on Saturday morning in reference to a slew of ESPN predictions for their series with the Warriors:

Needless to say, not one pundit or reporter has the gall to bet against the ballers in the Bay Area. Many people have a hard time believing this surprising squad has any sliver of hope to knock off the defending champions.

Game 1 of this series presented no evidence of the contrary. It was the typical script of a Warriors rout: a promising, competitive first quarter that gave the underdog hope, and then a beatdown from the second quarter on. Golden State displayed tenacious defense, leading to dazzling offense, as they scored points in bunches and snatched the heart of their opponent. 

The game blew open with about 10 minutes left in the second, as the Pelicans turned the ball over horrendously on two straight possessions to push the Warrior lead to six. The Pelicans would remain erratic offensively and lost defensively for the remainder of the contest. They found out very quickly that every Warrior on the court was a threat to score because of their fluid, beautiful playing style. 

In addition, if you factor in the fact that Steph Curry was unavailable for the game and will almost certainly return for Game 2, it feels like Anthony Davis’ squad might have blown their opportunity to compete in this series. 

But pump the brakes; let’s look at the optimistic side of things for those rooting for a competitive series. For starters, the Pelicans played one of their worst games in months. They gave up 76 points in the first half, a horrendous number that completely contradicts the way they’ve played since their surge in January. Sure, it has a lot to do with the talent of their opponent, but it also has plenty to do with the atrocious 20 points they surrendered off 12 turnovers. 

The one game that the Spurs won in their previous-round series against the Warriors was the game in which they had the least amount of turnovers, eight. Turnovers give the Warriors momentum and allow them to play at their signature frantic pace much easier. The Pelicans have a highly disciplined, talented, and technically sound backcourt in Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday; it’s a significant upgrade from the Spurs Patty Mills and Dejounte Murray. There’s no reason why they can’t take care of the ball better than they did in Game 1, even in the face of the Warriors’ ball pressure. 

The Pelicans should also be expected to adjust their defensive game plan. The most glaring and inexcusable strategic mistake was having Nikola Mirotic guard Kevin Durant. Obviously, Durant had his way with the Pelicans’ skilled stretch four. Mirotic lacks the athleticism to even remotely bother Durant. Also, given the Warriors lineup, it will be difficult to hide Mirotic on another player, especially when Curry gets back. 

It’s apparent that Mirotic might not be able to play in this series. His lack of athleticism sticks out like a sore thumb for the Pelicans when playing against such a skilled and challenging offense team that never becomes stagnant. It’s similar to the defensive problem that the Thunder have with Carmelo Anthony on a nightly basis. The Pelicans need defenders who are athletic and don’t mind constantly moving and chasing their man against Golden State. Either Mirotic’s effort level will have to skyrocket while also guarding someone other than Durant, or the Pelicans will have to try and win with their floor-stretching big barely playing. 

The Pelicans must also defend without fouling, something that they’ve been good at all season. They ranked eighth in in the league in fouls per game this season, so it’s safe to say that the 32 free throws they gave the Warriors that accounted for 24 points were a huge aberration. The Warriors are a challenge to keep off the line, but 32 free throws is ridiculous. Defending without fouling is a skill much more associated with discipline and focus than talent. New Orleans must force the Warriors to finish over clean contests as often as possible. 

Gentry and his staff have proven themselves to be extremely capable and can be expected to adjust. In addition, beyond the Mirotic problem, the Pelicans have to do a better job of recognizing the Warriors’ tendencies. For example, when Draymond Green receives the ball in the post, he is almost always looking to pass the basketball. The Pelicans gave up numerous chances at the rim in that situation because of a lack of attention to detail. 

They also lost Klay Thompson on off-ball screens for wide open shots on numerous occasions. Chasing the marvelous off-ball movement of Thompson around excellent Warrior screens is no easy task, but the Pelicans guards, or any NBA guards for that matter, can do a better job than this. One of the greatest shooters ever might as well be shooting alone in a gym:

Finally, the Pelicans failed to match the energy level of their opponent—a recipe for disaster for any undermanned team on the road. If you’re trying to win as an underdog, you must be the first team to loose balls, the first team to long rebounds, and the first team to set a competitive tone. One memorable play for Saturday’s contest featured five Pelicans watching Draymond Green chase a loose ball in the front row while up 17; the ball would end up in the hands of Andre Iguodala for an and-one finish. You’d have thought Green’s team was down 30 if you didn’t know the score. 

The Pelicans cannot get outworked like this as the series progresses. Plays like this should happen for the underdog, not the overwhelming favorite:

The reason for optimism is that the Pelicans’ atrocious performance was in stark contrast with the identity they’d established since Boogie’s injury. Holiday’s pedestrian 11 points cannot be expected to happen again. In addition, Anthony Davis is the best player in this series. There’s no reason why the two-way dominant superstar cannot respond to the physical team defense that the Warriors threw at him in Game 1, but he’ll need his teammates along for the ride. The Pelicans guards must take care of the basketball. Nikola Mirotic has to play with more heart and focus to avoid getting picked on defensively, and the Pelicans’ overall effort level has to rise tremendously. 

Whether this becomes a more competitive series is up to the Pelicans. They might lose this series, but by not giving themselves their best chance to win, they are beating themselves. If the last few months are any indication, New Orleans will bounce back and compete. 

Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

How many points did Anthony Davis average in the Pelicans' first-round 2015 series against the Warriors?
Created 4/29/18
  1. 31.5 PPG
  2. 28 PPG
  3. 30.6 PPG
  4. 26.4 PPG

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