Warriors-Pelicans Western conference semifinal preview
At first glance the seeding of this years playoffs, it seemed as though the Warriors had an easy road to the Finals. They had swept the Pelicans, Blazers, and Spurs in the playoffs before, but with the utter dominance New Orleans displayed against the Blazers, there’s still some concern in Golden State.
Looking back at the first time these teams matched up, the first round in 2015, the Pels put up a pretty good fight. Anthony Davis had his national coming out party. He averaged 30 for the series, and made it look easy over a prime defensive Draymond Green, and a still capable Andrew Bogut.
But the Pelicans came as close to winning game 3 as they possibly could have, if it weren’t for a miraculous three by Steph Curry to send it to overtime where Golden State took control of the game and the series. Since then these teams have changed dramatically.
Some news of Golden State came out of practice Thursday though. Marcus Thompson of The Athletic reported that Kerr put Curry down as “questionable” for Game 1 of the series. We could see this as the payoff of letting Curry rest through the first round, but I’m not falling for that. I think there’s some internal concern about what this Pelicans squad poses to the Warriors without #30.
Anthony Davis has become a truly brilliant NBA player. There’s no doubt that he’s a superstar, the best big man, and arguably the highest ceiling in the years to come (he’s only 25!). Put aside all of his in game accolades though and you’re left with an admirable young man. He’s had to put up with an inordinate amount of organizational incompetency, more than any young Star should have to. It’s a mark of a selfless player to endure that much strife without much more than an interview with Woj.
That aspect of AD is one the reasons his team has seen so much success, being the kind of guy you can rally behind. But his style of play is just as vital to his his teammates success. He commands defenses at all spots on the court, too quick for big men and too strong for guards and wings. That willingness to move the ball is why players like Holiday, Niko Mirotic, and E’Twaun Moore have been getting buckets from three. With an easier scheme they can rely on for offense, it’s allowed the Pelicans the stamina to compete harder on defense.
Against the Warriors though, the defensive game plan they showed against the Blazers might not be as effective. The Dubs just don’t work off the pick and roll as much as Portland, so the aggressive trap the Pels used against the Blazers won’t be as much of a factor. In fact if NOLA does resort to the trap against Steph, GSW is more than prepaid to create out of the 4-on-3 situation it presents. I think that it will still come down to outside shooting for the Dubs though. Davis is so good at protecting the rim that most of the Warriors’ offense should come off inside-out offense, whether that be drive and kicks or triangle actions initiated from the post.
My concern for GSW isn’t necessarily on offense, it’s how they handle NOLA on the defensive end. If they run a traditional 5 the whole game, Davis can eat the whole game. Nobody other than Draymond really stands a chance, and Kerr’s shown how tentative he is to run Green at the 5. Just look at their 4th quarter minutes game 5, Kevon Looney played almost the whole quarter, and they paid the price by blowing a huge lead. But if they’re willing to give Draymond the most minutes at center, it will certainly save them on defense, but then will also make for a more potent offense.
Though the talent gap is clearly in Golden State’s favor, the Pelicans are going to come out with as much energy as they can muster. Other than Rajon Rondo, they have a bunch of young, energized players who’ll be willing to sell out on defense, even if it means a screwed up rotation. But the Dubs have also had trouble with tight defenses plenty, as it tends to muck up the ball-movement that GSW’s offense predicates on. It’ll also be interesting to see how well Jrue Holiday can play Curry. He’s given him trouble in the past, being 6’4” and all, but Holiday is so calm and physical on defense.
The series may just be the Dubs toughest, if only for the fact that they’ve not seen this Pelicans team. Only in their last matchup in April (with Curry out and an eye on the playoffs, they lost) did they actually see the Pels without Boogie in their lineup. Their first game while most likely be a feeler, but if the Pels can capitalize on the opportunity, they could steal an early one on the road. But regardless this round will most certainly be more interesting than the last.
Prediction: Warriors in six