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NBA Playoffs: It's too early to bury the Pelicans against the Warriors

New Orleans is down 0-2 in their first round series with Golden State, but don't make the mistake of getting down on this team.

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Before Game 1 last Saturday, many predicted the Warriors would have a cake walk against the Pelicans. New Orleans was the lowly 8th seed who wasn't assured of a playoff berth until after the final day of the regular season.

Now, they're in an 0-2 hole and history isn't on their side.

But the only truth that matters now that their 97-87 loss is in the books is that the Pelicans are down 2-0, and history tells us that this unwelcome predicament is the NBA equivalent of being on death's door. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the team that starts a best-of-seven series with a 2-0 lead has won 245 out of 261 times.

Time to write off the Pels? Hardly.

Improved Defense

Although New Orleans failed to steal a game on the road, they've given the Warriors a lot to think about. In the first two games of the series, the Warriors have shot the ball well below their standards: a 45.7 FG% and a 44.2 FG% respectively. Did you know that among their 41 regular home games, Golden State shot under 46% just a grand total of four times?

Now, what if we consider the Warriors might have been fortunate to even post the above shooting percentages? In their two games combined, the Warriors have shot 38 for 73 (52.1%) on their uncontested looks (no Pelican defender within 4 feet). Conversely, they are 37 for 94 (39.4%) when New Orleans has contested the shot. During the regular season, GSW shot 48.9% on contested looks and 46.8% on attempts of the uncontested variety.

Want more proof the Pelicans defense is having an effect?

  • In two of the four quarter last night, the Warriors failed to even hit the 20 point barrier. After a 31.8 FG% in the first quarter, they followed that up with a 29.2 FG% in the third quarter.
  • In Game 1, the Pelicans did a poor job defending the paint. The Warriors made nearly 60% (16-27) of their contested looks at the rim. In Game 2, they nearly cut that percentage in half (35.5%). Davis was in particular stingy, allowing just one field goal on 7 attempts to find it's intended mark.
  • Here's another interesting tidbit from Monday night: 13 of the Warriors 17 first quarter points came via the fastbreak. That meant the 67-15 Warriors made only 2 of their 14 attempts within the halfcourt offense. On top of all this, a number of those fastbreaks were created when the Pelicans blew opportunities to score first themselves.

After coming up with a steal, Anthony Davis and Quincy Pondexter failed to convert an easy 2 on 1 break and turned the ball over themselves. With three Pelicans out of position, Stephen Curry completed the first 5 point swing of the quarter with an open three.

Just a minute and a half later, Davis missed a dunk and with the Pelicans not getting back in transition quickly enough, Curry proceeded to knock down a successive uncontested three-pointer.

Golden State was able to merely stay within striking distance because of several timely Pelican miscues. Had New Orleans converted a couple of those easy looks, the Warriors could have ended up digging a much larger hole, one they might have not been able to climb out of.

A Grounded Offense

On the other end of the floor, the Pelicans have struggled mightily to get the ball through the hoop this series: a 42.2 FG% in Game 1 and a 37.8 FG% in Game 2. They were particularly bad last night after halftime.

Despite the poor finish, Davis has fared rather well so far in the series (48.9 FG%). Eric Gordon has not been bad neither (42.4 FG%), especially from long distance (52.9 3FG%). In the two games, he has made 9 three-pointers including tying a franchise record last night.

However, the rest of the roster has struggled MIGHTILY. Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter are hitting at clips of under 40%. Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday have all been a tier worse, under 30%. Three core members, who combined for 45.1 points during the regular season, are averaging a puny 17.0 points in this playoff series.

(David Fisher will go into further depth over these offensive woes and the Pelicans shot selection in general later today.)

To put it bluntly, the offense has been putrid, but even awful hasn't prevented the Pelicans from remaining competitive in these playoffs.

Home Cooking, Nawlin's Style

The Warriors went 28-13 on the road; the Pelicans went 28-13 at home. The Pelicans will go from facing the best shooting team in the NBA in their arena (49.6 FG%) to one that shoots nearly 4 percentage points lower on the road (46.0 FG% away).

Even though the Pelicans held the Warriors to well under 10 points below their season average at home in the first two games of the series, heading back to the Crescent City will hopefully be the panacea to help kick start the offense.

New Orleans won their last five regular season home games and were winners in 11 of their last 14 games at the Smoothie King Center since the All-Star break. During this last two-month period, they recorded the fifth highest home FG% in the NBA (47.6%).

According to last night's telecast on Fox Sports New Orleans, both Jen Hale and David Wesley were confident Jrue Holiday would return for Game 3. Tyreke Evans will get over 48 hours of rest for his injured knee. Anthony Davis will have the same amount of time to recharge his batteries.

However, just as importantly, the coaching staff has time to make another round of adjustments. The Pelicans started the series terribly but have progressed thanks to improvements in strategy and rotations. By the time the game ended last night, many analysts (whose opinions I trust) were singing praises on behalf of New Orleans.

The Pelicans are battered and bruised, but their confidence level come Thursday will be high. They've gone toe-to-toe with perhaps the best regular season team since Jordan's Bulls inside the loudest arena in the NBA. Now it's their turn to have 16,000+ raucous fans in their corner. This substantive support has already pushed the Pelicans to improbable victories in the last several weeks of the regular season against the Spurs and these Warriors.

Don't think it won't happen again.

**Thanks to NBA Stats and Basketball Reference for the use of their statistics.