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Pelicans breakdown on defense against Warriors

Thankfully, a number of issues here are failures of execution, not ability.

This shot went in.
This shot went in.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors are a historically excellent NBA team. According to Basketball Reference they are one of just seven teams in NBA history to post a Simple Rating System of 10 or better. The other six teams include three Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls teams (1991-92, 1995-96, 1996-97), two Milwaukee Bucks teams featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson (1970-71, 1971-72), and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. Going by the data we have so far through 82 games, the Warriors are one of the best NBA teams ever. That conclusion will likely only remain, however, if they win the 2015 championship.

Yesterday afternoon the Pelicans, as expected, had a very difficult time getting their feet under them. In their zeal to take away possible Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson 3-point attempts, New Orleans routinely overplayed off-the-ball screens and dribble handoffs. This created other opportunities; opportunities the Dubs viciously attacked with aplomb. At times, it felt as if Golden State was running a layup drill.

During other times, the Pelicans just failed to execute their scheme or do basic basketball things. This post will point those errors out.

Failure to Execute the Scheme

Here we have a pretty standard side pick and roll. Omer Asik, the man defending the screener, ices the pick. He drops down low and in front of the rim to defend the ball handler. Quincy Pondexter, the man guarding Curry, fails to force the ball away from the screen, eating it as I would a Po' Boy from Bear's in Covington. (If you haven't and you live on the Northshore, you really should go to Bear's.)

All of this would not be a catastrophe if not for Anthony Davis. Davis is one pass away from the ball guarding Draymond Green, who is moving to the left wing. Davis should be on the nail, the center of the free throw line. If AD gets all the way over he is in position to redirect or slow Curry from an easy layup. Instead, and this was a theme all game, he defends a Warrior role player like a Warrior All-Star. Instead of a dribble reset or a switch Curry is gallivanting into the lane for an uncontested layup.

Fundamentals Forgotten

This is not how you defend a pick and roll when your man needs help. Alexis Ajinca turns his hips away from the ball when he is the only man between Klay Thompson and the basket. NO! Don't do that! Focus one play through on Jrue Holiday on the low block, guarding Shaun Livingston. The action begins and he gets both feet into the restricted area, ready to help on a possible dump off to Ajinca's man. Ajinca does not trust his teammates here, and instead gets burned himself.

I'm So Excited, and I Just Can't Hide It

Two different examples of the same mental mistake. The first time, really focus your eyes on the shot clock. There are 2.5 seconds on the shot clock and Anthony Davis is face guarding Draymond Green 35 feet from the basket. Blow by, layup. 22 seconds of good defense is ruined by Davis failing to trust the process. He should be at least a step off of Green begging him to take a contested 3-point shot over those impossibly long arms.


The second clip is more of the same. Davis is just chasing the ball. He doesn't need to here; slide those feet and get in front of Green, ready to close out if he tries to take a jump shot. Again, there are just five seconds on the shot clock when Green catches the pass. The steal attempt here and the aggressive in-your-face defense in the first clip are too bold, especially considering shot clock implications.

Trust the Process and Teammates

The Pelicans are not a good defensive team. They lack talent at a number of positions on that side of the ball and are still short on experience together. Still, these errors are correctable. New Orleans has been running ice on side pick and rolls all season, similar to the rest of the league. In the NBA teams want to take away the middle of the court and force the ball away from those screens. Pondexter's mistake there just doesn't add up to anything but an individual breakdown.

Ajinca's defensive weaknesses should be well known by now. He is so long that he can cover up on occasion but footwork errors like that are going to turn into layups. Too often we equate good defense with the result; did the shot go in. Many times bad defense still ends in a missed shot thanks to the shooter's failure; other times good defense is overridden by superb offense. Ajinca's defense is going to be a problem if he sees any significant minutes against the Warrior starters.

Davis was in his first playoff game. Mistakes of exuberance should not only be expected, but embraced. AD had his share of rotation errors but above the problem is him trying to do too much. The excitement of a good defensive possession as a the shot clock winds down, his ability to create havoc, and the need to make plays as a superstar all drive those miscues.

The next 24 hours will be critical for the Pelicans. How do they respond to their own mistakes? What adjustments will they make, not schematically as much as in their execution of the game plan? Can they start on more solid footing with the late West Coast start surely adding to the fire in the Oracle? The players, far more than the coaches, will decide each and every game. The coach can tell them what should be done in a certain situation; it is up to the player to do it.