Series Recap: Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans fared slightly better against the Warriors in 2018 than they did in 2015, but the Warriors handled them in five games en route to a highly-anticipated Western Conference Finals matchup against the Houston Rockets.

The Golden State Warriors made their way to the second round of the playoffs after defeating the overmatched and undermanned San Antonio Spurs in five games. The Warriors, if anything, arguably underperformed in a series that many expected to be an easy sweep. The easy first-round sweep instead came from the other side of the bracket as the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans toppled the Portland Trail Blazers in four games in the biggest shock of the first round.

Stephen Curry missed the entire first round and was ruled out for the first game of this series. The Pelicans failed to take advantage of his Game 1 absence. Despite heroic efforts from Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Rajon Rondo, New Orleans fell to the Warriors in five games. Davis and the Pelicans did at least manage to cobble together a better overall series than they did in the opening round of 2015 (a 4-0 win for Golden State). However, that effort was ultimately not enough to keep the Warriors from moving onto a highly-anticipated Western Conference Finals battle against the top-seeded Houston Rockets.

Game 1: Golden State 123, New Orleans 101

The New Orleans Pelicans had a clear opportunity to steal Game 1 with Steph Curry on the sidelines. The Warriors are dangerous enough without Curry, but they are at least somewhat stoppable. Stealing Game 1 in Oakland could have given the Pelicans a real shot to at least put fear in the heart of the reigning NBA champions with their best player watching in street clothes.

Instead, however, the Warriors put together a dominant performance in a 123-101 victory. The Warriors let the Pelicans hang around for a quarter before blowing their doors off in the second quarter, outscoring New Orleans 41-21 as they closed off any avenue for hope. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 53 points, and Draymond Green put up a ridiculous 16-15-11-3-2 while helping to hold Anthony Davis to 21 points on 20 shots. This game was New Orleans' only real chance to steal a game in the Bay, and they fell well short of doing so.

Game 2: Golden State 121, New Orleans 116

The Golden State Warriors were down 18-11 with 4:20 left in the first quarter. Their offense was stuck in the mud and they were getting mauled on the boards. Then, Steph Curry checked in. The vibe of the game shifted instantly as the Oracle crowd rose to their feet as their best player checked in for the first time in the 2018 playoffs. Curry immediately rewarded the home crowd with a deep three just 11 seconds after checking in.

Anyone who doubts that Steph Curry is the Warriors' best and most important player should just watch this game. The Warriors' offense crawled along with Curry out, bogging down in isolations and poorly spaced possessions. With Curry and his unprecedented shooting gravity on the floor, Golden State magically started to move the ball with purpose and got much better looks both inside and outside of the arc. In a five-point win, the Warriors outscored the Pelicans by 26 points with Steph on the floor. No other Warrior had a double-digit plus-minus--unless you count Nick Young's -11 in 11 minutes, that is.

Game 3: New Orleans 119, Golden State 100

While it seems simplistic to say that the Pelicans' only win stands apart from the rest of the series, this game countered basically every Warriors trend for this season and this series. The Pelicans started out strong with an excellent first quarter but were outscored by the Warriors in the second period. With the third quarter looming, the Pelicans appeared to be in trouble.

However, the Pelicans countered every Warriors trend, outscoring Golden State by double digits in a 30-19 third quarter. New Orleans opened the second half with a 21-7 run, and the Warriors never got close again after that. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday combined for 54 points and 25 rebounds, while Rajon Rondo dished out 21 assists and put up a hilariously Rondo-esque statline (21 assists, 10 rebounds, and four points on 2-11 shooting) en route to a Pelicans victory in New Orleans.

Game 4: Golden State 118, New Orleans 92

After a rough outing in the previous game, the Warriors certainly came back with a vengeance in Game 4. They kicked things off with a 37-22 first quarter, including a 13-0 run after an early 4-4 tie. Golden State weathered rough shooting nights from Draymond and Klay (a combined 8-22 from the floor and 3-10 from deep) as KD and Curry combined for 61 points.

The Pelicans never led in this game, and the Warriors did not relinquish the lead again after that early 4-4 tie. The game would have looked even worse for the Pelicans if Anthony Davis had not topped the scoring charts in the first quarter with 14 points; he made just five of his 16 shots after the opening period and got to the line just  once (making both) after going 8-8 from the stripe in the first quarter.

Game 5: Golden State 113, New Orleans 104

Give the Pelicans some credit: they kept the game close in the first half and were down by just three points at halftime. Then, the third quarter Warriors arrived. The Warriors have outscored their opponents by a truly absurd margin of 433 points in their 92 third quarters this season. This game might have been the most ridiculous example of that third-quarter dominance that we've seen all year, as the Warriors started the second half with a 25-4 run that put this game out of reach.

The Pelicans refused to give up and managed to piece together a 17-2 run late in the fourth quarter to close the gap to seven. However, that final push was just not enough, as Draymond Green scored two late baskets to keep the game out of reach. While the single-digit final margin does not really do justice to the Warriors' control over this game, the Pelicans did at least make the fourth quarter interesting long after many teams would have laid down and given up.

Up Next: Houston Rockets

The moment that NBA fans have been waiting for all season long is finally upon us. The Western Conference Finals matchup between the Warriors and the Houston Rockets will be one for the ages and is all but guaranteed to be a closer series than the actual NBA Finals. The Rockets took the top seed in the West and in the NBA away from the Warriors for the first time since the start of the Steve Kerr era.

The backcourt battle between the Splash Brothers and Harden/CP3 will be must-watch TV on its own. Furthermore, the Rockets have a trio of stout forward defenders (P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza, and Luc Mbah a Moute) that can hound Kevin Durant and Draymond Green for 48 minutes. Finally, Clint Capela played the best basketball of his career in the Houston/Utah series, and the Warriors simply do not have an answer for his lockdown interior defense and excellent rim-running skills in the pick-and-roll. While the Warriors should still be the favorites on paper, the Rockets have had a better chance of dethroning the champs than anyone else in the NBA since the Chris Paul trade. We will all have to wait and see what happens on Monday night in Houston.

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