There was a short period during the first quarter of Saturday’s Game 1 between the Pelicans and the Warriors when it looked like the Warriors were a little flustered by New Orleans’s frenetic pace. That five-game first-round series with the Spurs was downright sluggish, by Warriors standards: at 95.75 possessions per 48 minutes, it was a full six possessions slower than the Warriors played in the regular season, and slower than they’ve played over any season since 2011. When David West got lost guarding E’Twuan off a switch and gave up a corner three to stretch the Pelicans lead to five points, it was possible to imagine the Dubs, who mostly loafed past the Spurs, needing a game to re-acclimatize to this kind of up-tempo basketball.
Boy, that moment sure didn’t last long. The Warriors found their legs by the end of the frame, erupted for 41 points in the second quarter, and had 76 total points and a 21-point lead at halftime. Their lead grew as large as 31 points in the third quarter, and the Pelicans never came close to bothering them again.
Central to Golden State’s dominance was the all-court brilliance of Draymond Green, who started at center for the Warriors when Steve Kerr made the unexpected decision to insert Nick Young, of all people, into the starting lineup. Green wasn’t so great in their first round series—he shot just 35.7 percent from the floor—but he also didn’t have to be. In this series, with a destroyer of worlds like Anthony Davis on the floor, and against a team that seemed to be hitting its stride, Green would need to be more like his best self. He didn’t disappoint:
The decision that pushed Green to center in the starting lineup, and to start Young, had everything to do with New Orleans’s zippy, outside-in, Alvin Gentry-esque style of basketball. Per SFGate:
“Well, it’s a small game with New Orleans,” said Kerr, who started Andre Iguodala at point guard, Klay Thompson at shooting guard, Young at small forward, Kevin Durant at power forward and Draymond Green at center. “They spread you out, and so we knew we were going to have to play without Steph (Curry) and Patty (McCaw).
“We were going to have to find some minutes from Nick and from Quinn (Cook), and we liked the idea of starting Nick and putting him out there. He’s a good matchup defensively with what we’re facing, and he spreads the floor. I thought he did a really nice job.”
The Warriors definitely noticed the whirring pace of the game, even if they ultimately thrived at it. Or, anyway, Klay Thompson did. Per ESPN:
“Man, it was tiring,” Klay Thompson said after scoring a game-high 27 points in a 123-101 win. “The Spurs, they are a little older, so they play a little more methodical. They try to beat us up in the half court and low block. This team is kind of like playing ourselves. It’s like, you make a bucket, you can’t relax. You have to sprint back, find a shooter and they are pushing the tempo. It’s a whole different ballgame.”
Young, despite what Kerr had to say about it, didn’t in fact do a really nice job. The Warriors were minus-7 during his seven first-half minutes, and he was the only Golden State player who played at least 10 minutes and finished with a negative net rating (-19.5). It was a funny, unorthodox decision, but one that probably represents Kerr outthinking himself, or overreacting to how the Pelicans want to play.
Not that it mattered! The Warriors bottled up Jrue Holiday (11 points on 14 shots), whose excellence more or less defined New Orleans’s domination of the Trail Blazers; held Anthony Davis more or less in check (21 points and 10 rebounds, a fine line but also a far cry from the 33 points and 12 rebounds he averaged against the Blazers); and ultimately looked far more comfortable with the game’s sizzling 105.96 pace than the Pelicans, who led the regular season in pace of play. Watching the Pelicans get blitzed in a game played at that speed was like watching Wile E. Coyote pull up alongside the roadrunner on rocket-powered roller skates, holding a knife and fork, only to watch the roadrunner do the little “beep beep” thing and tear off over the horizon in the blink of an eye. And that was without Steph!
Speaking of Steph:
The Warriors are the higher seed, and they were at home, and they’re supposed to win Game 1. But the comfort level they showed defending and operating at the Pelicans’ preferred pace of play was jarring, and a reminder that no team in modern NBA history does chaotic, up-tempo, outside-in basketball better than these Warriors.