That godforsaken second quarter.
You know the one I’m referring to: where all hell broke loose as the world champs went on a 37-9 scoring run in Game 1 and effectively crushed spirits across Pelican Nation seconds before halftime. Inside a ten-minute window of the game clock, Golden State totaled 28 more points than New Orleans.
The Warriors very nearly threw down a thirty-spot without Stephen Curry!
We could delve into so much of what went wrong — which amounted to pretty much everything — and be critical of the lack of defensive intensity or poor focus on offense. Conversely, we could laud the brilliance of the Warriors. However, let’s concentrate on the part of the game that mattered most because making several adjustments for when the outcome still hangs in future balances could pave the way for some decent success by New Orleans in this series.
After the first 13 minutes of Game 1, the Pelicans were tied with the Warriors at 39 points apiece. Anthony Davis was hot, New Orleans was getting a lot of easy looks in the restricted area and Golden State was losing the fastbreak points battle 7-3, yet a lot of things could have been done differently or improved upon. While lowering turnovers, committing less personal fouls and shooting the ball better would obviously help, here are five specific things that I think could help turn fortunes around for the Pelicans.
1. Jrue Holiday must avoid confronting the length of Kevin Durant.
Holiday beat up on defensive coverages all series long against Portland, finding his way into the paint at will and scoring over everyone. With KD on him now, however, Holiday struggled immensely, making just one of nine field goal attempts. The Warriors smartly removed a major component of New Orleans scoring in one fell swoop, utilizing Durant’s 7’-4.75’’ wingspan to thwart Holiday drives.
Moreover, that patented Holiday-Davis pick and roll? Don’t count on it. Most likely awaiting the Pelicans duo defensively will be Durant and Draymond Green. Rather, New Orleans needs to find a different screener, leaving Holiday with a more favorable matchup, or the offense must utilize back screens, double screens and hitting Jrue on the move. If it’s Holiday’s time to score, you’ve got to find a way to shake Durant first. If not, live with Jrue being a distributing decoy, just as he lured two defenders on the following play that resulted in an easy Hill lay-in.
2. Pelicans must guard Kevin Durant in single coverage and with length.
Nearly no one on this planet can adequately stay with Durant, but Nikola Mirotic did about as well as expected, allowing four makes in 12 shot attempts. Thanks to his unfair height and wingspan combination, Durant has little trouble rising over small statured defenders and knocking down jumpers. Holiday — obviously one of the best point guardians of the league — was helpless when Durant decided to shoot over the top of him.
The Pelicans are going to have to live with Mirotic, Davis or, gulp, Solomon Hill shadowing Durant. Yes, there’s a good chance it won’t work too often. Moreover, Durant is likely going to be able to beat them off the dribble. However, not staying close to him with length will result in daggers from the perimeter all game long. Plus, a defense cannot survive doubling Durant, not with the Splash brothers roaming the three-point line or someone salivating to make a cut.
3. Keep deadly backdoor cuts by the Warriors to a minimum.
Klay Thompson had several nice cuts in the first quarter. He missed connecting on his first shot attempt against E’Twaun Moore but didn’t miss a second time.
Honestly, I think the coaching staff should consider having Holiday guard Thompson in Game 2 because I failed to see much benefit to Jrue drawing the assignment on Draymond in the opener. In addition to hounding Klay more on the perimeter, Holiday has better agility and awareness than Moore to corral Thompson’s shiftiness.
Also, Golden State’s crafty veterans are ever-ready to cut backdoor when potential help defenders momentarily forget about them with KD lurking in the area. David West ducked behind Davis too easily here because AD was concerned with helping Clark.
4. Limit second chance opportunities by Golden State.
The Warriors grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter of Game 1. No bueno. It’s difficult enough to beat the champs any given day, but when you consistently give them multiple shot attempts per possession, snatching a victory becomes borderline impossible.
Below, Rondo should have had alarm bells go off in his head as soon as he saw Mirotic sliding in to provide help on a Thompson backdoor cut — Green isn’t going to be far behind for an offensive rebound.
Since losing DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans have often been at a disadvantage on the glass. However, they were able to overcome that at times by ensuring all players put a body on an opponent in the paint and working together as a unit with all of the guards filtering into the open rebounding seams. Against these Warriors, this is an absolute must.
5. Pelicans offense MUST attack Nick Young, Stephen Curry or Quinn Cook repeatedly when they’re on the floor.
Steve Kerr decided to start another shooter in Game 1 so that the Pelicans couldn't utilize a similar trapping C.J./Dame defense on Klay Thompson and Durant. Although the Pelicans were successful in scoring against Young, they need to attack him much more often. Look at how Rondo fared on back-to-back possessions, scoring on one play and assisting on another.
Nick Young played 21 minutes, but collectively as a team, the Pelicans attempted just three shots against him. New Orleans must place Young in the crosshairs with greater frequency — or any Warrior shooters who are below average defensively when they’re on the floor.
One other point of emphasis, Golden State flat out ignored Rajon Rondo on offense; however, this was far from anything new as opponents have consistently given the starting Pelicans point guard a chasm of space all season. Rondo needs to attack and probe more often than settle, but go ahead and take those jumpers when the disrespect is this tremendous.
As Alvin Gentry joked to the postgame media following the Pelicans 123-101 loss to the Warriors, things didn’t go according to plan. However, the series is far from over. New Orleans is just a handful of adjustments away from being more competitive — and looking like their truer selves.