Wednesday’s result, a 131-121 loss, was expected by the vast majority of onlookers, but the bigger, more important takeaway was how the New Orleans Pelicans fought all night, seemingly with a hand tied behind their backs, against the Golden State Warriors, who exerted a playoff-like intensity through much of the first half.
On the first play of the game, Anthony Davis spun baseline and beat a fronting Draymond Green and the rest of the Warriors defense on a lob catch for an easy And-1 opportunity. Minutes later, the Warriors were whistled for their fifth personal foul, including a quick two on Green. And not halfway through the first quarter, the Pelicans led 21-17, on the strength of nine points from a hot-shooting Jrue Holiday.
Check the right left 1-2 that almost (?) got Jrue behind the line. So impressed with this guy pic.twitter.com/4bGhFa9J9g— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) November 1, 2018
Yes, things started better than expected, but that wouldn’t last. The Pelicans and Warriors continued trading blows for the rest of the first half, with Golden State eventually seizing a seven-point lead at halftime. However, one thing was clearly evident throughout despite New Orleans hanging tough: these were not the Pelicans we witnessed through the team’s first four games of the season.
No Elfrid Payton — the point guard who pushes the pace the best and allows everyone else to stay in their more suited roles, no Darius Miller — which loomed bigger than you might think because Solomon Hill was asked to shoot wide open threes without the necessary confidence, and no typical effort from the Pelicans potential Sixth Man Candidate Julius Randle. But ultimately, the biggest killer was the fact that Anthony Davis was not Anthony Davis.
After confirming AD was most likely to going to be available tomorrow against the Trail Blazers, Alvin Gentry remarked that Davis needs to get his timing back after missing a couple of games. That was a bit of an understatement. For the entirety of the first half, Davis didn’t look like his typical self: explosive, commanding on the glass, confident with his shot, everything!
Now, this isn’t meant to be some excuse, nor an attempt to take anything away from the Warriors who played really well. Stephen Curry went for 37 points and hit seven threes, Kevin Durant casually scored 24 and Draymond Green dominated all the action in his vicinity with a line of 16 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Golden State literally shoved their style of play down New Orleans’ throats, scoring 32 fastbreak points and canning 16 of their 32 three-point attempts. It’s quite the feat to beat a team that tallies those figures, yet one couldn’t shake the idea of maybe a different outcome next time.
Had the Pelicans been whole like they were at the start of the season, boy, would it have made for a more interesting game because Jrue Holiday (season-high 28 points, nine assists), Nikola Mirotic (26 points, 12 rebounds) and E’Twaun Moore (21 points, three triples) were outstanding. And had the team reduced the amount of Golden State’s easy opportunities, well, the outcome might have been different given the typical circumstances opponents face when tackling the Warriors.
“We were pretty solid defensively,” said Gentry. “They probably made eight shots that no one else in the league is capable of making. And those are the kinds of shots you have to live with.”
True to his word, Gentry looked to Frank Jackson early and made him the Pelicans first reserve of the game. While he didn’t perform up to snuff (3 points on 1-7 shooting), this game was an important step in his development. Did his presence hurt the team tonight? Probably. Will getting his feet wet in these type of environments help prepare him for the long-term? Most definitely.
On the other end of the spectrum, one has to wonder just how much longer Gentry can continue to give Solomon Hill the benefit of the doubt. He’s never going to be anything more than a role player in this league. It’s completely understandable to keep throwing Solo out there in order to jump start his season, but at some point, you’ve got to call it quits for the time being on the experiment when another comparable option sits on the bench in Wesley Johnson.
Either way, try and not read too much else into this loss. The Pelicans were missing a few guys and a few others were not their typical selves. Anthony Davis did finish with a line of 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, but I’m willing to bet that if he doesn’t suffer a setback overnight and is in the lineup tomorrow, the Pelicans will be in great shape to steal a victory against the Portland Trail Blazers — as long as they play collectively as well as they did versus the Warriors.
Against most other teams, the Pelicans would have gotten a win on Wednesday night. Against Golden State, you’ve practically got to be perfect to notch the W.