The version of the Golden State Warriors that dispatched the Spurs in five games and cruised to a blowout Game 1 win against the Pelicans is a fine NBA team. One that, if not destined to, certainly looked capable of winning the title while being led by top-five NBA player Kevin Durant. The version of the Golden State Warriors that beat the Pelicans last night is an unbreakable machine with the ability to sap all remaining postseason intrigue over who might eventually come out on top. That’s because Steph Curry was on it.
Even on a minutes restriction, even with All-Stars like Durant and Draymond Green playing their best basketball of the season, even with some rust, Curry changes the dimensions of the game so severely for the Warriors that they become essentially a different team when he’s on the court.
Coming off the bench for the first time since the 2015-16 playoffs, Curry scored 28 points on 15 shots in 27 minutes, knocking down five threes and hitting all seven of his free throws. As the crowd roared its approval at his playoff debut, Curry casually ran his man around three screens, got to the wing, popped a three, and began to saunter back on defense as it swished in.
Curry wound up +26 on the night, easily the highest on his team. He made the sort of guffaw-inducing plays that he seems to do every night when he’s healthy: Pull up from feet behind the three-point line, fillet any poor big man who switches out onto him, hit pocket passes to cutters, pick unsuspecting pockets, and navigate his pick and rolls with Draymond Green perfectly. What makes Curry special is not just how solid he is as a shooter, passer, and floor general, but the ridiculous and otherwise inadvisable basketball shit he can render routine. Even elite teams are not supposed to fire away on 33-footers early in the shot clock, or try some of the entry passes the Warriors try, but when the Warriors continue to pull off increasingly difficult plays without issue, they become impossible to guard.
Curry turned it over six times last night, and was clearly still getting his sea legs under him. He didn’t quite look all the way in sync with his teammates, though a lack of sharpness did not make his effect on the way his team played any less profound. The Pelicans played a great game, as Steve Kerr repeatedly warned they would. Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo both shot well and made themselves pests on defense, while Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore did their jobs and hit shots. Anthony Davis was a lengthy nuisance who dropped 25 points and even swatted the everliving Christ out of a lazy Curry floater, but none of it was nearly enough. New Orleans is such a shallow team that they’re not equipped to fully pounce on the Warriors when Curry or Durant sit, especially with Green playing as well as he is on both ends of the floor (he guarded Davis well and tied Rondo with a game-high 12 assists.)
In order to make this a series, New Orleans needs to continue outshooting Golden State and forcing turnovers, which helps them get out in transition, where Davis is unstoppable. But they don’t just have to beat a two seed anymore, they have to beat the fully operational Steph Curry Warriors, which we haven’t seen any team do basically all year. The Pelicans’ best shot at advancing might be Curry’s rust catching up with him in the remaining games. That doesn’t feel like much of a shot at all.