The Trail Blazers lost the first two games of their first-round series to a supposed lesser opponent on their own home floor. Portland’s urgency level was supposed to be a 15 out of 10, especially hitting the road for Game 3. It wasn’t.
Instead, the Pelicans punched the Blazers in the mouth, repeatedly. They blasted the Trail Blazers, defending home floor for a convincing 119-102 win to seize a fatal 3-0 series lead. No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. These Trail Blazers — especially how they’ve played through three games — are no exception.
But this story isn’t about the Trail Blazers who have fallen flat of the expectations they set during the season while they seized the No. 3 seed. Instead, it’s about a New Orleans Pelicans team that has soared above their circumstances and are flying smoothly to a second-round playoff appearance and likely date with the Golden State Warriors.
No one, not even the most devout fans, expected the Pelicans to lead 3-0 in the first round. Many considered the season to be a wash when DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles midseason. But New Orleans proven the be far and away the better team in this series. Now, they’re threatening to sweep.
The Pelicans led Game 3 by as many as 33 points. By that point, Nikola Mirotic had done most of his damage. The Pelicans had been a middle-of-the-road three-point shooting team much of the season. In the second half of the year, they were one of the 10 worst teams from deep. But they shot 11-of-27 from three against Portland, led by Mirotic’s four treys. He lit the Blazers up for 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field. When Niko put up 14 points in the first quarter, the tone was set for the rest of the night.
It was that kind of night for almost every Pelican to play on Thursday. New Orleans shot 53 percent from the field as a team. There was virtually no defensive resistance from the Trail Blazers. The Pelicans bent them against their will.
I could rattle off a bunch of other stats, like Anthony Davis’s dominant 28 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks; or playoff Rajon Rondo’s 16 points and 11 assist. But only one number matters in this series: One.
That’s how many wins the Pelicans need to seal the deal, and they can do it on their home floor against a Trail Blazers team many hoped for more from. New Orleans is for real. And they’re threatening to prove just how real with a sweep in Game 4.
And judging by the way New Orleans has dismissed Portland here in the first round, Golden State should be on alert. Because this isn’t the same Pelicans team the Warriors swept two seasons ago. This one just put the league on notice.