The idea that the New Orleans Pelicans could compete with the Golden State Warriors in this Western Conference semifinals series was born mostly out of optimism, it seems clear in hindsight. Nobody picked New Orleans to win, but it was sexy to predict them stealing a couple.
That looks less likely after Game 1’s 123-101 drubbing on Saturday, one that the Warriors accomplished with Stephen Curry — who’s expected back in Game 2 — sitting on the sidelines. At one point, they led by 41 points.
Golden State looked vulnerable last round against San Antonio. They won in five games, but the final two were offensive slogs. They nearly blew Game 5 at home when they only scored 20 points in the final frame. It was messy, and for long stretches it felt like Kevin Durant manufacturing points was their only way to score. (For what it’s worth, that remains a damn good way to score.)
Meanwhile, New Orleans was fresh off a commanding four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, a 3-vs-6 seed upset on the hands of sparkling Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday performances. It’s honestly hard to oversell exactly how good those two were. For 16 quarters, Davis manhandled any defender that attempted to slow him down while Holiday ran circles through them.
But ... this is still the Warriors.
Though their offense stagnated at times in the previous series, Golden State was also facing a supremely disciplined San Antonio team. New Orleans allowed the fifth fewest points per 100 possessions after the All-Star break, but they finished the year just 13th in that category. They lack the militant Spurs system across the board, and gave up plenty of size coming into this series. As such, it was no real surprise when Golden State ran them ragged on Saturday.
Just Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson is an offense that can railroad you. Those are two of the best five shooters in the league, probably, and they play off each other beautifully. Golden State’s dark secret this season is that they don’t have much shooting outside of those two (and the sidelined Curry, of course), but they got it in this game. Nick Young hit twice from outside, while Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green both popped one apiece. They don’t need to rain shots in from downtown — just make defenses respect them a little.
And remember how important Green is to this team. His final line says it all: 16 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals, two blocks, and plus-28 when on the floor. Green hadn’t quite played to his peak during the regular season. He was about 10 percent less himself than usual, but it only made sense that he would rebound when games really mattered. That’s his personality, and his effort Saturday seemed to make it clear.
New Orleans can still win a game, but at this point, two seems farfetched — not with Curry probably returning the next game. Golden State may have screwed around more than usual in the regular season, something encouraged by their many injury struggles, but let’s not forget that this has been the best team in the league for four years running. You’ve seen why. You just saw it again.