(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports/Cary Edmondson)
Stephen Curry has missed Golden State's first six postseason games as he recovered from a sprained left knee suffered March 23. The Warriors (58-24) have not missed their All-Star guard, who averages 26.4 points and 6.1 assists, all that much as they won five of those games and pummeled the Pelicans 123-101 on Saturday night to open this conference semifinal series.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr held out Curry primarily as a precaution, though he did tell the San Francisco Chronicle before Game 1 his point guard "pleaded his case," but added, "when you've been out five weeks and you want to play in the playoffs, I don’t think one scrimmage is enough, even though he feels great and wants to play … it’s very likely he’ll play Game 2."
As has been the case most of the season, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green picked up the scoring slack. Durant and Thompson totaled 53 points between them while Green recorded his fourth career playoff triple-double with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists.
While the offense continued to hum without Curry, the biggest takeaway from Game 1 was the Warriors succeeding with a smaller starting five to counter New Orleans' space-based offense in the halfcourt. Green moved to center and Nick Young entered the starting lineup to replace JaVale McGee, and the increased speed contributed to holding the Pelicans to eight for 25 from 3-point range after they connected on a 40 percent clip in their first-round sweep of Portland.
Anthony Davis had 21 points and ten rebounds while E'Twaun Moore added 15 points for New Orleans, who were also outscored 24-9 at the foul line. Jrue Holiday, whose stellar play down the stretch contributed to a nine-game Pelicans winning streak spanning the end of the regular season and first round of the playoffs, made just four of 14 shots and finished with 11 points.
After this game, the series shifts to New Orleans for Game 3 on Friday night.
Three keys to the game
More on Golden State playing small-ball - Count Curry among those unsurprised the Warriors were successful with their new look Saturday, when they broke the game open in championship style with a 41-21 second quarter that resulted in a 21-point halftime lead.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” Curry told The Undefeated. “These dudes have been playing amazing. A lot of people try to key in on my return. But our locker room has confidence that they can get the job done whether I’m out there or not. So that is the confidence we have to have to win a championship.”
Time for the Pelicans to adjust - After feeling all good about themselves with their sweep of the Trail Blazers, the Pelicans were given a cold dose of reality by the Warriors despite Curry's absence. The bottom line of Game 1 is there is no way the Pelicans are going to win a game when Moore is their second-leading scorer, even if he doubled his postseason average with a playoff career-high of 15 points.
Some of the Pelicans, though, attributed their struggles to the rust coming from a six-day layoff and are confident they can bounce back against the champs.
"We weren't as sharp as we have been. Our timing was a little bit off," said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "I think those were the two main things. We missed some easy shots. ... We watched (the film) twice actually and a lot of the things that happened in the game were self-inflicted. Mentally, we made some mistakes that we hadn't made at all."
Plug-and-play Green - When the postseason rolls around, Green rolls into form. His playoff averages across the board are better than his regular-season numbers, and perhaps the most impressive offensive number he has through six postseason games is his average of 8.5 assists while compiling a 3.19 assists-to-turnover ratio.
But moving Green to the five defensively without him skipping a beat puts the Warriors on a level the Pelicans will be hard-pressed to match in this series. It is more than him contesting Davis one-on-one defensively, it is Green's ability to help and recover on that side of the court that has Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry trying to formulate wrinkles within their re-jiggered offense.
"Draymond is just a different beast all together," said Gentry. "He can impact a game and have five points. It's not the point scoring, it's just the rebounding, the assists, his knowledge. He's a really high basketball IQ guy. Usually when he goes well and he plays like he did (Saturday), they very seldom ever lose."
Matchup to watch
SG Jrue Holiday vs G Andre Iguodala - Holiday is the player who lifted the Pelicans to an elite level down the stretch as he emerged as the Pelicans' second scorer while Davis was manhandling opponents. Holiday averaged 27.8 points and 6.5 assists while shooting 56.8 percent in the sweep of Portland.
Then the Warriors happened, and Holiday went cold as he was held to 11 points and missed ten of 14 shots. This is the "Iguodala effect" in which versatile veteran Warriors guard Andre Iguodala used his size and length to fluster Holiday.
Between Iguodala and Green, who was used largely as a rover to guard either Davis or Rajon Rondo to keep the Pelicans off-balance with occasional double teams, the Warriors have found favorable matchups for themselves defensively.
Davis and Iguodala create flexibility that allows Durant and Thompson to guard New Orleans' fourth and fifth options, with Durant able to close out Nikola Mirotic as a seven-footer on the perimeter and Thompson to simply guard Moore because the Warriors will be more than content to let him shoot the ball 11 times again since it takes away shots from Davis and the others.
New Orleans Pelicans projected starting lineup
PG - Rajon Rondo | SG - Jrue Holiday | C - Anthony Davis | SF - E'Twaun Moore | PF - Nikola Mirotic
Golden State Warriors projected started lineup
PG - Andre Iguodala | SG - Klay Thompson | C - Draymond Green | SF - Nick Young | PF - Kevin Durant
Rondo could be a sneaky utility option in DFS considering he will continue to be around a double-double with his assists and potentially a triple-double like he did in Game 1 when he finished with nine points, eight rebounds and 11 assists. He has averaged 10.3 points and 13.0 assists in his last three games versus the Warriors this season.
Davis has posted double-doubles in all five playoff games this season after finishing with 21 points and ten boards in Game 1, which were also both postseason lows for him. Going back to the regular season, the All-Star forward has a streak of 11 games of 20 points or better, averaging 29.4 in that span while also pulling down 11.5 rebounds per contest.
It was the first time in four games against the Warriors this season Davis failed to score at least 30 points, and he has averaged 30.0 points, 13.0 rebounds 2.3 steals and 2.0 blocks in the four matchups in 2017/18.
Thompson is proving to be the offensive bellwether for the Warriors, as the only game he failed to shoot at least 40 percent this postseason was the only game they lost. He has made 50 percent of his 3-pointers in Golden State's six playoff games (20 for 40) and has averaged 23.3 points while shooting 51.4 percent overall.
Durant's metronome-like consistency offensively continues to make him a must-have for fantasy purposes. He has scored at least 24 points in all six playoff games and has averaged 27.8 and 9.2 rebounds in this postseason while connecting on 47.9 percent of his shots. In his two home games against the Pelicans, Durant has totaled 67 points and 23 rebounds while making seven of 14 from 3-point range and 26 of 47 overall.
The Warriors are 10.5-point favorites for Game 2 as they try to cover for the sixth time in their last eight home games versus the Pelicans. Golden State are 9-4 against the spread in their last 13 conference semifinal games and 5-1 against the number when their opponents give up 100 or more points in their previous game.
Golden State, though, are 2-8 versus the number in their last ten following a victory against the spread and 5-13 in their last 18 games when facing an above-.500 teams. And they are 4-12 in their last 16 contests following a straight up victory.
New Orleans is looking to regroup after failing to cover for the first time in ten games overall and having an eight-game win streak against the number snapped in Game 1. The Pelicans are also 5-1 against the spread in their last six road games and 18-6 in their last 24 games versus Western Conference teams.
The over/under is 226.5 points, and the over has hit in five of the last six meetings overall and in five of the last six played at Golden State. The over is 7-3 in New Orleans' last ten games overall and against conference rivals and has posted an 8-2 mark in their last ten when facing Pacific Division teams. The over is also 5-1-1 in Golden State's last seven home games and 6-2 in their last eight conference semifinal contests.
Championship teams evolve. That was the takeaway from Game 1 as the Warriors realized they had to neutralize Davis. This was never about sacrificing their dynamic offense, because any change to their starting lineup would not involve Green, Thompson or Durant, and introducing Young was a low-risk, high-reward idea given his streaky perimeter shooting.
Young only took four shots and was a minus-seven during his 21 minutes, and Kevin Looney became in interesting option for Kerr to examine considering the backup forward was a staggering plus-34 in his 23 minutes and part of the group that ran the Pelicans off the court in the second quarter.
At 6' 9" and 220 pounds, Looney is another long, athletic frontcourt player who is essentially a younger hustling version of David West and gives them a couple of baskets and a few rebounds while allowing Green to do his thing on the defensive end because Golden State is so well-connected and mobile when they go small.
Now they will re-integrate Curry into the mix, and the thing to watch will be if Golden State suffers on the defensive end at all. Curry would probably match up with Rondo, so the primary question is who does he replace in the rotation, Iguodala or Young? The hedge here is Young because Iguodala can remain guarding Holiday and Thompson can continue to guard Moore.
Despite being held to 21 points, Davis scored more than half of them when being guarded by Green, so there is hope for the Pelicans. But it means moving the ball faster in their halfcourt sets, and that starts with Rondo. The New Orleans point guard has to see Green immediately when he chooses to blitz up high and start the ball movement going to force the Warriors to rotate defensively as opposed to them helping and recovering off their man.
While the Pelicans said they missed shots in Game 1 they would normally make, the other truth is the Warriors also made them miss some of those shots. New Orleans cannot afford to get frustrated if they don't get calls, which was evident in the first half as well, because when Golden State gets going downhill, the results are devastating as Game 1 will attest.
Expect this game to be closer, but with the same outcome: a Warriors victory, this time by a 117-105 count.
The game will be televised nationally on TNT and nationally in Canada on TSN1. Tip-off time is 10:30 pm EDT.
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