That might be the most incredible basketball game I have ever witnessed. As late as six minutes into the fourth quarter, the Pelicans held a 17-point lead over the Warriors. The Warriors weren’t just getting beat, they were getting comprehensively outplayed by the eight seed. And then in six quick minutes, the previous 42 were erased.
Draymond Green finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting earlier today and maybe should have finished first, but for three quarters Anthony Davis made the whole thing seem like a joke, going 10-17 along with 13 rebounds while being guarded primarily by Green. The Pelicans wings continually beat their man off the dribble to maraud into the paint, where they either finished at the rim or kicked the ball out for a wide open shot. I mean, there were times that Norris Cole—who finished 7-10—looked like the best guard on the court.
Meanwhile, try as they might, nothing was working for the Warriors, especially their bench, best summed up by the six minutes Marresse Speights played in the third quarter:
- 4:45 left - Had his layup blocked by Anthony Davis, rebounded it, and got blocked again
- 3:24 left - Missed a long jumper
- 2:27 left - Fouled Ryan Anderson
- 1:53 left - Blocked by Dante Cunningham
- 1:38 left - Fouled Jrue Holiday
- 0:27 left - Blocked by Jrue Holiday
But the key moment in the game came four minutes later. Down 17, Steve Kerr opted to return Steph Curry to the game instead of throwing in the towel. The Warriors went small, with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green as the bigs. Ryan Anderson soon hit two shots over Green in front of the Warriors bench and talked shit to it each time, but from then on his deficiencies as a basketball player were made apparent. The Warriors grabbed ten offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter—Green had four of them—repeatedly beating the bigger Davis and Anderson to the glass to make up for still-poor shooting.
The biggest offensive rebound of the ten, of course, was Speights’s, atoning for his terrible third quarter by grabbing Curry’s game-tying miss and giving him another shot. Curry didn’t need a third:
After the game, Pelicans coach Monty Williams said the Pelicans were supposed to foul the Warriors before they even got a chance to shoot a three, but they didn’t properly execute his plan. According to TNT it was the third largest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA history, but that wouldn’t matter if the Warriors blew their second chance in the fourth quarter.
As good as Anthony Davis was for three quarters, for the final quarter and especially overtime, he was nowhere to be found. Like game two in the series, he started strong but tired late, unable to continue taking advantage of his unique skill set. With Andrew Bogut back in the game for overtime the Warriors looked like the defensively imposing and offensively unselfish team we saw during the regular season, with Curry, Barnes, Green, and Bogut all scoring in overtime.
Despite a six point lead the Warriors—along with a bit of help from the refs—made it difficult for themselves, with Draymond Green fouling out and Klay Thompson committing a dumb off-ball foul while up three with only ten seconds left. The Pelicans were given a free throw—which Davis buried—and the ball, needing a two to tie or a three to win. They put the ball in the hands of Davis, who couldn’t get a better shot than an off-balance, contested runner. No good. The Warriors would win 123 to 119.
Down 0-3, the series is over for the Pelicans. But they needn’t fret: next year they are going to win a playoff series. They aren’t all that dissimilar—right down to the probably overmatched coach—from the 2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder, who won 50 games before bowing out to the eventual champion Lakers in a surprisingly competitive first round series. Anthony Davis isn’t just a star, but the future best player in the league, perhaps as soon as next season.
As for the Warriors, they still haven’t lost in these playoffs, but they also haven’t put together a complete start-to-finish game. To an extent, it is understandable. Anthony Davis is an incredible—and incredibly unique—player, and they won’t see anybody like him again. Then again, the starting lineups they face are going to get much better than Davis, Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Quincy Pondexter.
The 20-point fourth quarter comeback is a double-edged sword. Yes, it was an amazing display that no other team in the league is capable of, but it is extremely worrying that it was necessary in the first place. But as fans watching the game, at least, we can take satisfaction knowing that they are the most exciting team in the league, and always worth watching.