One down, 15 to go.
The Warriors’ plan in Game 1 of their first round series against the Pelicans was clear: do everything possible to slow down Anthony Davis. It was a task they succeeded in handling for about three quarters, until Davis exploded in the fourth quarter of Game 1. That’s why Warriors won 106-99 instead of by 20-plus — they allowed Davis to get 20 of his 35 points and six of his seven rebounds in that fourth quarter, which began with Golden State leading by 18.
Was Draymond Green — who spent his fair share of time on Davis — upset about how Game 1 went? “Absolutely not.” But later in his postgame interview he gave the team a C+/B- grade for how they performed, which shows once again how much expectations have grown around here.
“The last two years you’re the hunters,” said Green, who had 15 points, 12 assists and seven steals in a game-high 42-plus minutes. “Now you’re the hunted.”
The Warriors had their spears out in the first quarter, harassing the Pelicans into a 13-point first quarter. And that’s what should be the lasting impression in this game. Well, that and the Warriors’ lack of backcourt depth, at least if Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston perform throughout the playoffs the way they did on Saturday.
As deep as this team has looked, the main six guys in the rotation deserve all of the credit for the Warriors’ 1-0 series lead over the Pelicans. Stephen Curry wasn’t making threes at the same ridiculous clip we saw over the last two months, but his backdoor cuts and drives led to plenty of layups. His 34 points led the Warriors, despite three rare misses from the free throw line. More on that later.
Green and Andrew Bogut did most of the work on Davis. Bogut’s line was a lot like Green’s right down to two blocked shots apiece: 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting (and one of those misses was a desperation 21-foot jumper with the shot clock winding down), 14 points and five assists. But more important was the tandem’s work to keep Davis from going off until the Warriors were way out in front.
In truth, this was a rout that got close because (1) the Warriors let up in the end of a third quarter that ended with a near-halfcourter from Quincy Pondexter right before the buzzer, (2) Davis was a terror around the basket in the fourth quarter, and (3) the Warriors lost their offensive rhythm after humming along nicely for the first 2.75 quarters or so. But whenever they were engaged on both sides of the floor, they made the Pelicans look like an Eastern Conference eighth seed instead of the team that knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs with a win on Wednesday against the Spurs.
“I was nervous the first game. I think the whole team was. This is our first team together as a unit in a playoff, especially in an environment like this,” said Davis.
At times, Oracle seemed as loud as ever. Case in point: Curry raced to the basket in transition with Davis trailing, and while drawing the foul threw a lefty reverse layup high off the glass. It had to be seen to be believed; from my angle behind the other hoop, it seemed like the ball almost changed course in the air due to Curry putting a little English on the ball.
Curry has been tossing out this kind of nonsense all season, but considering the defender in this particular instance, it may have been the best play I’ve seen him make *in person* all season. Some of the stuff he pulls off is ludicrous.
The MVP favorite was ready for this game, as he dealt with the “butterflies” Davis said he felt before his first playoff game two years ago. But Warriors fans have dealt with being the hunter for so long, and now that they’re the hunted, the vibe is a little different. The crowd went nuts when Curry and Green flexed after great plays (more on that in a bit), but there was a palpable “uh oh … (gulp)” vibe when the Pelicans clawed back.
“You obviously want to get the crowd back into it and there is a weird kind of tension. Especially in the second half when they made a couple runs,” said Curry. “But in the playoffs, you’ve got to expect anything.”
Overall, this game was a huge success. The key players stayed healthy and the Warriors showed they’re the superior team and should probably win this series in four games, five max. And it didn’t hurt to get a little practice with the game on the line, even though they would’ve preferred to let the reserves handle things in the last 10-12 minutes.
— Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala had their moments (Thompson also had five turnovers), but there was a distinct difference in this game when Curry was on or off the floor. That’s what happens when Barbosa and Livingston combine for two points on 1-of-5 shooting and no assists in over 24 minutes. Barbosa isn’t known for his defense, but Livingston wasn’t anything special on that end either.
— Davis blocked a Bogot turnaround lefty hook, something I can’t remember ever seeing before.
— Here’s Green’s response when I asked him about a situation I noticed. After Green was flexing in celebration, a timeout was called and both teams headed to their respective benches. Steve Kerr met Green at midcourt and seemed like he had something he needed to get off his chest, because from my seat that’s where it looked like he was poking Green. I asked Green if he could share what Kerr said, and he smiled and gave me a funny non-answer.
In the middle of that video, Green explained why he and Curry displayed their biceps:
— There were some odd officiating decisions in this game, especially near the end when Norris Cole was trying to foul Curry on an inbound play (Cole grabbed Curry’s waist) and nothing was called. Curry looked pretty mad at the refs, especially early in the game. But everyone who complains when the calls all seem to be going against the Warriors should be forced to watch what Curry said after the game (the video is only 29 seconds long):
— In the fourth quarter, after Kerr stopped trying to get something out of Livingston, the lineup was Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Bogut. I asked Bogut if that’s what he expects will be the “crunch-time lineup” throughout the playoffs, and he gave me a politically correct answer about how it’ll have to do with matchups, and how if other teams go small they’ll be happy to counter with a small lineup of their own. OK, fine. But going small against the Warriors is dumb, so we’ll probably see today’s “closers” lineup in the fourth quarters of tight games more often than not.
— That group’s only real weakness: Iguodala and Bogut can’t make free throws. We even saw an “Andris Bogut” moment, as the Aussie airballed one for the first time in quite a while. But the Warriors only shot 61.8% from the line as a team, with Curry and Thompson missing three each. The Pelicans might focus more on guarding the three-point line than anything else in this series, so the Warriors may have to win the points in the paint battle (they had a 50-42 advantage) to prevail, something they’re more than capable of doing. But whether or not they make threes, they need to make their free throws at a higher clip, and be ready for some Hack-and-Iggy-or-Biggie over the coming weeks.