As a team that made the postseason on the last day of the regular season, it's not a surprise to see oddsmakers think the Pelicans are a long shot to win the 2015 NBA Finals. That New Orleans chances of getting past Golden State, or even extending the series are on the unfavorable side.
- Golden State Warriors win in 4: 21.94%
- Golden State Warriors win in 5: 30.29%
- Golden State Warriors win in 6: 18.92%
- Golden State Warriors win in 7: 15.27%
- Golden State Warriors win series: 86.42%
- New Orleans Pelicans win in 4: 0.95%
- New Orleans Pelicans win in 5: 2.21%
- New Orleans Pelicans win in 6: 5.42%
- New Orleans Pelicans win in 7: 5%
- New Orleans Pelicans win series: 13.58%
Courtesy of Zach from NumberFire.com
History is not with the Pelicans
There have been a grand total of just five 8 seeds knocking off the number 1 seeds in the history of the NBA. Since moving exclusively to a 7-game series in 2002, there have been only 3 upsets:
- 2007: Warriors over Mavericks: Dallas had won 67 games but they struggled in this playoff series, especially Nowitzki, against the small and fast Don Nelson team.
- 2011: Grizzlies over Spurs: Although the Spurs had won 61 games, they finished the regular season with losses in 9 of their last 10 road games. That trend continued in the playoffs.
- 2012: 76ers over Bulls: In the lockout shortened season, the Bulls went 50-16, but they lost Derrick Rose to a torn ACL in the waning moments of game one.
What did the Warriors and the Grizzlies have in common? They won the first game of the series and then both home games (#3 + #4) to advance to the second round.
Although the upsets have been rare, 8th seeds have at least fared better than 7th seeds. Only the 2010 San Antonio Spurs have been able to get past a number two seed since the 1990's.
Pelicans vs Warriors
Golden State had a 3-1 edge (and 3-0 last season) on New Orleans during the regular season, but it was seconds away from being 2-2. In the December 14th matchup without Anthony Davis, the Pelicans had three chances to score in the final 32 seconds of regulation to take the lead. They missed all three attempts. Their first two tries (Evans lay-in, Anderson three) were blocked by Draymond Green, and the final shot, a Tyreke Evans three-pointer missed badly.
In both games in the Oracle, the Warriors dominated the Pelicans. Not surprising though when remembering GSW finished 39-2 at home, losing only to the Bulls and Spurs. However, do not focus too hard on these results. In the Pels second trip to San Francisco, Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik ALL missed the game.
Top 3 Warrior performers against the Pelicans (4 game averages unless otherwise noted):
- Stephen Curry: 23.5 PPG, 9.5 AST, 4.5 REB, 4.0 3PM, 1.5 STL, 3.3 TOV
- Draymond Green: 13.8 PPG, 12.3 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.8 BLK, 1.3 3PM, 0.8 STL
- Andrew Bogut (3 games): 7.3 PPG, 8.0 REB, 4.7 BLK, 1.7 AST
- Anthony Davis (2 games): 29.5 PPG, 12.5 REB, 3.5 BLK, 2.5 STL, 2.5 AST
- Jrue Holiday (2 games): 21.0 PPG, 8.5 AST, 3.0 REB, 3.0 STL, 1.0 3PM
- Quincy Pondexter (2 games): 17.5 PPG, 3.5 3PM, 1.5 REB, 1.5 AST
Let's examine how the Pelicans should look to defend the Warriors best weapons.
PG: Stephen Curry. Similar to Davis, there really isn't a good method to employ against Steph. Of course, he's a deadly shooter, just have a look at what he did to the Pelicans earlier this month. It used to be that pushing him off the three-point line and towards the paint area/congestion was the way to go, but this season, Curry is easily averaged the best FG% around the rim (68.7%).
Regardless, it's still vital to play up on him. He's always actively seeking space around the three-point line. For instance, when a screen gets set and an opposing big ends up on him, he'll just dribble around long enough until the big invariably sags. Oops, Drano! We witnessed this several times in our last matchup where Omer Asik gave him just a hair of daylight several times and Steph made him pay for it.
Thus, the best defense is to have an on-the-ball defender that stays close at all times. Stay with him through screens and never going underneath. Next, a team defense that is willing to help and rotate at any given time is a must.
In the last matchup, Quincy Pondexter did about as well as one could have asked; I fully expect he'll be assigned on him at the start of the game. Later, Jrue Holiday will probably get several turns. The key will be how well the Pelican bigs do in traffic (ie. screens). If they see the guard is late, they absolutely must step up and show. Hopefully, the result won't be a switch, but rather the Pelicans guard defender can recover quickly enough. Throughout this sequence, hopefully no easy lane will be available to Curry for an easy dump off to a Warrior screener. It's a lot to ask, but that's what it takes to stop a premier offensive talent.
SG: Klay Thompson. Just when you think you've got Curry corralled, Klay promptly scores a hundred or so points within a quarter's time. He's another handful, but what's worse is he's got around 4 inches on Steph so he is better able to rise over defenders. Perfect, because he thrives with opponents nearby.
So how do you defend him? You either get lucky (like the Pelicans did in the April 7th meeting) or get up so close to him that you're physically touching him throughout much of the play. It really helps if the player is around his height; thus, if Q-Pon is assigned on Curry to start, Monty should strongly consider Tyreke to cover Klay. (Then of course fans have to pray like hell Harrison Barnes doesn't abuse Eric Gordon in the post.)
It'll be interesting to see how Monty counteracts what should be an effective shooting Klay Thompson. The San Antonio Spurs recently shut down the Splash Brothers with uber-talented wing defenders in Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. The best the Pelicans can muster are Holiday and Pondexter. If Gordon or Evans could have a particularly effective defensive game, that would go a long way.
PF: Draymond Green. Probably the best move Steve Kerr made all season was to insert and keep Green in the starting lineup. He's a menace defensively, but it's his offensive game that has really evolved this season. He's finally consistently taking advantage of his speed against opponents and pushing the issue. Most PF's can't stay with him, thus after he nabs a defensive rebound, he's off to the races with his man trailing well behind. If a guard decides to help, more than likely Curry or Thompson are going to suddenly be swimming in a lot of real estate.
With his speed and length, Anthony Davis should theoretically have no issues. However, in the two games AD has played against the Warriors, Green has averaged 19 PPG, 14 REB, 3 AST, 2.5 3PM and shot 51.6% from the floor. If you glance back up the article, those numbers pale in comparison to what he's done against AD.
Those who have followed the Pelicans closely know that Davis has not been in the correct defensive positions in far too many games. In our recent loss to the Houston Rockets, he forgot that big men are supposed to help around the paint and specifically the rim at all times. Then conversely against the Clippers, he was too slow in staying with Blake Griffin and was torched for a number of easy scores.
Before you give up hope, Davis will be coming off two very good defensive games. Against the Wolves and the Spurs, his one on one defense was effective as usual, but for a change of pace, his man wasn't getting a step on him off the ball and even better, he was flashing great help defense, usually around the rim.
Since the Pelicans and Monty Williams stressed how much everyone counted them out of the playoff race way too early, we'll oblige by playing the same psychological game and count them out against the Golden State Warriors. My magic 8-ball believes they'll last six games, winning two of the matchups.
However, if the team has any intentions of shocking the world, they should look to follow the blueprint of the 2007 Warriors and 2011 Grizzlies: steal the first game of the series and then hold serve at home in games three and four.
Later today, we'll have a look at what the Pelicans need to do offensively and specifically outline the plan of attack for Game 1.