Some people expected a sweep in this series, while others expected the Pelicans to snag a game, maybe two, but a Golden State blowout in Game 1 was a near unanimous expectation. After the lead swelled all the way to 25 points for the Warriors, it was looking like an accurate prediction, too. Emphasis on was, because after New Orleans got its feet wet and found lineup combinations that actually worked, they went on a 14-0 run, the last seven points of the third and the first seven points of the fourth, which forced Golden State to play its starters for longer than its typical home game.
The Warriors took advantage of New Orleans in the same ways they did during the regular season. Guarding Draymond Green on the perimeter makes Anthony Davis a fish out of water. Like Joakim Noah and Serge Ibaka when asked to do the same, their natural instincts are to jump in the paint and protect the rim, and Omer Asik wasn’t much help as a backline defender, as he was a -18 in 21:35 of floor time. Not only can having Davis out of the paint make it easier to penetrate, it means they can catch him attempting to recover and have Green drive past him and create an open look against a scrambling defense. Davis also wasn’t hustling down the floor on transition defense as necessitated by the potent Warriors attack.
Just 5-21 shooting in the first quarter, the Pelicans found themselves down 28-13 early. They kept fighting, though, and even when the Warriors went up 25 in the second half, New Orleans fought back. Back-to-back threes from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson appeared to seal the game after the Pelicans went on a 14-0 run to get back in the game, except Davis brought New Orleans back in the game by scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter, only to fall just short.
From Golden State’s perspective, they can say they were never really threatened despite Thompson only hitting six of 17 shots and the team going just 11-29 from downtown, including 4-13 from Curry, who still finished with 34 points. They also went a meager 21-34 from the line, with both Splash Brothers missing at the stripe while trying to ice the game. Green (15 points, 12 boards, seven assists, three steals) and Andrew Bogut (12, 14 and five) provided offense and anchored the defense enough to carry the day.
New Orleans optimists, or people who just want to see a competitive series, can be encouraged by Dante Cunningham‘s impact on the game. A +9 in just 15 minutes, his presence allowed Davis to protect the rim. Areas of concern would be adjusting the offense if Tyreke Evans, who left with a knee injury, can’t play moving forward, and that the comeback may actually hurt them because they won’t catch the Warriors sleeping to start Game 2.
However, if first three-quarters Brow was just him getting his feet wet, and fourth-quarter Brow is the player they’ll get the rest of the series, the Pellies will certainly claim at least a game. He finished with 35 points on 13-23 from the floor in a historic performance:
Per @bball_ref, Anthony Davis' 35 points was the highest-scoring career playoff debut for a big man since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970 (36).
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 19, 2015
One thing to keep an eye on: Golden State struggled when Curry (40 minutes, +20 on/-13 off) and Green (42 minutes, +23 on/-16 off) weren’t on the floor. That won’t be more than an inconvenience in this series, but it could be a decisive factor against a real contender down the road.