Just because the Pelicans came into this game with the confidence that they could beat the Warriors at their run-and-gun game doesn't mean they will actually be able to do it when the playoff lights are brightest.
Before Saturday's game, Pelicans players and coaches spoke with conviction that they weren't going to change their up-tempo style just because they were facing the defending NBA champions. They believed that they could run up and down the floor with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and were steadfast in the notion that Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday could impose their will on the game.
Sadly for the Pelicans, they were mistaken.
Durant and Thompson combined for 53 points on the night, 36 of which came in a first half that stayed close for a while but came bursting apart as the Warriors went on a 25-2 run toward the end of the second quarter and never looked back. As well as the hot-shooting pair played, it was Draymond Green who set the tone for the rest of his team to follow, going off for a triple-double with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists.
As resolute as Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry was before the game about his team's ability to go shot for shot with the Warriors, the veteran coach offered this pregame reminder after Golden State coach Steve Kerr revealed that Stephen Curry (knee) wouldn't make his long-awaited return.
"Steph is great, two-time MVP," Gentry said. "But guys, they're still pretty doggone good without him. They've already proven that. They just won a series against the Spurs without him, so you're still going to have to play at an extremely high level to be able to win a game where he's not in the game, and they've already proven that they can do that."
Gentry's words seemed more prescient as the night wore on. The Pelicans shot 60 percent from the field in the first quarter and trailed 35-34 after the first 12 minutes, in large part because they couldn't keep a feisty-looking Warriors group off the offensive glass.
Davis was his usual steady self, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but he didn't have the kind of dominant performance that defined the Pelicans' first-round series sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. Holiday struggled all night to find an offensive rhythm, shooting just 4-for-14 from the field. Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo nearly completed a triple-double with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists, but the Warriors made a point to sag off him defensively and were content allowing him to shoot from distance. He was just 4-for-10 from the field.
Despite all the issues, Gentry remained steadfast in his belief that his team will be fine.
"We're still going to play with a fast pace," he said. "And we are going to do a better job of spacing the floor. We're going to be better defensively from the standpoint of not having breakdowns.
"We're not going to go back and change everything that we did. We're not going to all of a sudden walk the ball up the court now and try to play slow. You know, what we've got to do is we've got to get AD more involved in the game from the standpoint of even the double-teams, we've got to get him out on the floor and get space, and we've got to do a better job of shot selection. Then we've got to do a better job defensively."
The Warriors had no such problems on either end, racing up and down the floor with the swagger of a championship team that is ready to hit its stride after going through periods of malaise throughout the regular season. The Warriors went to the free throw line 32 times, compared to just 11 attempts for the Pelicans. The Warriors not only set a tone for the rest of the series in Game 1 but also stopped all the momentum a confident New Orleans group had coming into the week.
The worst part of all for the Pelicans wasn't even the final score. It was that they left Oracle Arena knowing that Curry is expected to play in Game 2 on Tuesday.
"We're going to be more locked in defensively, especially with [Curry] probably coming back," Davis said. "But for us, it's about pride. What they did in the second quarter was an embarrassment to us. We're not that type of team."
Warriors dominate in Game 1
Draymond Green records a triple-double and Kevin Durant adds a double-double as the Warriors cruise to a 123-101 win over the Pelicans.