NBA Playoffs: Pelicans' up-tempo style unleashes Warriors' fury in Game 1, and Steph Curry didn't even play
New Orleans wants to push the pace, but that's a dangerous proposition against Golden State
OAKLAND, Calif. -- It took a single glance toward the courtside seats at Oracle Arena to recognize that things were different for the Warriors in the second round of the NBA playoffs. After all, Beyonce and Jay-Z aren't showing up to see the Spurs.
The energy in the building was palpable from the jump of the Warriors' 123-101 Game 1 victory against New Orleans, and why wouldn't it be? With all due respect to the storied San Antonio Spurs organization, this year's version had less star power than a PBS documentary. But with the Pelicans, Patty Mills was replaced with the superior playoff version of Rajon Rondo. Instead of Kyle Anderson, whose actual nickname is "Slo Mo," you have Jrue Holiday, one of the best two-way guards in the league. And taking the place of Davis Bertans you have Anthony Davis, arguably the best all-around player in the NBA.
The Oracle crowd, which Warriors coach Steve Kerr said was the loudest it has been all season, immediately noticed the difference with this series -- there was that unmistakable, constant murmur of anticipation, like they were about to witness something special. And they certainly did.
As potent as the Warriors offense has been in recent years, they've never done what they did on Saturday night -- they dropped 76 points in the first half, the most in franchise history for a postseason game, with 41 of those coming in the second quarter. It was like watching the dinosaurs take over Jurassic Park after escaping from their enclosures.
In the first round against the Spurs, Golden State was tested with a physical, grind-it-out defense and had to struggle for every point. Conversely, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, associate head coach with the Warriors for their 2014-15 championship season, decided to stick with his strategy of relentlessly pushing the pace. It played right into the Warriors' hands, and they looked like a team that had been freed from San Antonio's defensive prison.
"It's a completely different tempo," Draymond Green said after the game. "They're really pushing the ball on makes and misses. Nonetheless, as long as we're getting back in transition and not giving up easy stuff, I think that pace plays into our hands."
As a result, the Warriors played like kids in a candy store -- actually, more like an unsupervised candy factory. Just as he did before Game 1 of the San Antonio series by starting Andre Iguodala at point guard, Kerr made a drastic change to his starting lineup before tipoff against the Pelicans -- inserting little-used Nick Young for JaVale McGee and moving Draymond Green over to center. Many wondered whether Kerr would try to match the small-ball Pelicans starting lineup of Davis, Nikola Mirotic, E'Twaun Moore, Holiday and Rondo, and we got our answer immediately.
Needless to say, it worked. Golden State played with incredible energy and pace, which breeds confidence and swagger with this group. New Orleans hung with them in the beginning, but that's the problem with playing up-tempo against the Warriors -- they're better at it than you are. Green was the unquestioned leader and facilitator, nearly posting a triple-double in the first half alone, and played tremendous defense on Davis despite giving up six inches of height.
"I think our guys like playing this style," Kerr said after the game. "They want to play fast. Playing fast is great as long as you defend, and that's the whole key -- if you can combine the two."
And we haven't even mentioned that perhaps the biggest star of all, the player who thrives the most from the frenetic chaos we saw in Game 1, didn't even play. Stephen Curry is , which means that things are going to get worse for the Pelicans before they get better.
Unfortunately, New Orleans really has no choice. The Pelicans have no option to go big -- nobody wants to see 20 minutes of Chieck Diallo every night -- and all of the success they've seen in the second half of the season and into the playoffs is contingent on playing this small lineup and pushing the pace. It's who they are, and there's no way they can change now.
"We're still gonna play with a fast pace," Gentry said after the game. "We're not gonna go back and change everything that we did. We're not gonna all of a sudden walk the ball up the court now and try to play slow."
So all there is left to do is keep running and gunning, hope that Davis can have some LeBron-like, heroic individual performances and pray that the Warriors go cold for four games. With Curry back in the fold, it's hard to imagine that's going to happen.
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