In the first round of the 2007 playoffs, a plucky Golden State bunch beat the top seeded, 67-15, Dallas Mavericks in six games to eliminate them. This time around the Warriors find themselves playing the role of the Goliath instead. The records for the top seeds are the same, but the similarities between the 2007 series and the current one end there. Although an upset is extremely unlikely to happen, the Warriors would be wise to remember their own history.
This year’s Warriors are an absolute juggernaut in every sense of the word. They lead the league in points scored (110) and possess a league best defensive rating (101.4). They move the ball and play fast, absolutely slaughtering the competition with the number one rating in pace (98.3). And in case you forgot – you didn’t – they have the best shooter and maybe the MVP in Stephen Curry. They are basketball at its pinnacle aesthetic, a known quantity and favorite that basketball purists and casual fans alike can both appreciate and root for.
The team on the other side of the court when the series opens up Saturday afternoon on ABC is a far more mysterious and intriguing team. “When are the Pelicans going to make the jump?” was a common refrain before the season began. Even during the season, most pundits (myself included) remained skeptical. However, since the all-star break, this is a very different and dangerous Pels team. The known quantity here is wunderkind Anthony Davis. It’s hard to believe that AD, still just 22 years old, is posting such insane statistics. He narrowly missed out on becoming only the 4th player to post a 31-plus PER rating for an entire season (the three achieving such a feat being LeBron, Wilt, and MJ). The unknown is just how effective the supporting cast will be.
Davis and Curry being on the floor at the same time means the amazing will seem banal this series. That’s how often each player drops spectators’ jaws. But it’s the supporting cast of each that will decide who plays golf early.
Key to the Series
The somewhat unspoken hero of this Warriors team is perennial injury risk Andrew Bogut. Bogut’s interior defense allows the Warriors to close out hard on shooters and not have to worry about an empty lane. The Aussie leads the league in DRPM (Defensive Real Plus Minus), and anchors a scary good defensive crew. When Bogut went down in the regular season the Warriors were still a very good ball club thanks to the defensive versatility of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. They could go small and fly around the court with Green pestering opposing centers. However, if Bogut goes down AD will have a field day. Draymond Green cannot guard him. It may not matter if Klay and Curry are bombing threes the way they can, but it’s something to consider.
For the Pelicans, their midseason acquisitions, the return of Jrue Holiday, and the recent good play of Tyreke Evans will decide how far they can push into the postseason. Norris Cole adds a plus defender to the Pelicans backcourt and allows them flexibility with their defensive lineups now that Jrue Holiday is finally looking somewhat healthy. Holiday should be a big boost off the bench in an effort to bottle up the dynamic Warriors guards. Combine that with a Tyreke Evans who seems to be embracing a role as a playmaker recently, a streaking Quincy Pondexter, who has teamed with Eric Gordon to create one of the league’s best three-point shooting duos since the all-star break, and the return of Ryan Anderson to the lineup, and the Pelicans certainly have the ammunition to force the series to seven games or maybe, just maybe, shock the world.
Jimmer Fredette. Okay, just kidding. But in a way Fredette has already had a possible effect. In 2011, The Jimmer was drafted exactly one spot ahead of Klay Thompson, selected by Sacramento to fill their need for a shooter. It is impossible to tell if Thompson would have been available for Golden State to draft if Jimmer wasn’t the pick at that spot, and this sort of hindsight GM’ing provides no tangible insight. But it is the exact kind of “what if” that can torture fan bases for years.
No, the real X-factor is Tyreke Evans. He has the size, driving ability, and overall playmaking chops to win games by himself. At times he can look like the most talented player on the floor. Other times, he seems to be shooting the Pelicans out of the game and disrupting the team’s flow. Since the break Evans has been outstanding, but with New Orleans getting a few pieces back with the return of Holiday and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, the challenge will be on Evans to limit turnovers and play within himself while maintaining the attacking mentality that can allow him to take over.
An upstart Pelicans group may be rounding into form just in the nick of time, but the Dubs simply have too much talent to lose. Steve Kerr has his boys playing hard, having fun, and trouncing teams in the process. The West is going to be a bloodbath and no single team can afford to cruise through a series. New Orleans will put up a good fight, but Golden State wins 4-2.
Golden State in 6