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2018 NBA Playoffs: New Orleans Pelicans give fantastic effort but aggressive play goes unrewarded in 121-116 loss to Golden State Warriors

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The lack of referee whistles was simply too hard to ignore.

NBA: Playoffs-New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In a highly entertaining Game 2 that featured the return of Stephen Curry — who dazzled all onlookers with an incredible shooting display that netted 28 points in 27 minutes, a Pelicans starting lineup that went balls to the wall and combined for 103 points, and just incredible sheer effort and intensity by both teams, my lasting impression is comparable to what one must feel after getting robbed at gunpoint, after needing to walk home following the car sustaining a double flat in the middle of the night in the seediest part of town, after losing a well-paying job earlier in the day and deciding it best to drown those sorrows at the closest tavern for at least a few hours.

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, who combined for 90 minutes, 48 field goal attempts and 36 points in the paint — just two shy of the Warriors team total on the night, failed to record a single free throw attempt.




Just how rare of an occurrence was this? For starters, Davis failed to register a single free throw attempt only once in 75 games this past regular season — a matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers where he lasted a mere five minutes because of a knee injury that knocked him out of the game in the first quarter.

The Golden State Warriors attempted 27 free throw attempts on Tuesday night but the New Orleans Pelicans only nine. This discrepancy looks even worse when factoring the 32-11 FTA disparity witnessed in Game 1. Yep, through two games, the Warriors have attempted 39 more free throws than the Pelicans — that’s practically 20 more potential freebie points per game!

During the regular season — a nice 82-game sample size mind you, Golden State averaged 20.3 free throws a contest (22nd) and New Orleans, 20.9 (17th). Both teams lived in the same neighborhood, probably even the same block, yet suddenly through the first two games of this series, the Warriors are absolutely dominating the Pelicans in an area of the stat sheet that is surprising even longtime Bay Area followers.

Was the discrepancy due to a lack of aggression by New Orleans? That seems impossible. In Tuesday’s contest, the Pelicans attempted 54 shots in the paint and scored 66 points in the paint. These types of numbers are the opposite of what one would coin “settling.”

“We played aggressive,” responded Head Coach Alvin Gentry in postgame. “I think both of them {Davis and Holiday} did. Jrue took the ball to the basket. As i said, we had 54 shots in the paint. I think that is being aggressive.”

Sorry, but this Game 2 didn’t have the vibe of an All-Star exhibition where defenders refuse to contest shot attempts by offensive players. No, this was another typically hard-fought playoff game that featured two teams who really went after each other. The problem is the referees have seemingly rewarded only one side to date — and the Pelicans are well aware of the fact.

If you ask any of the Warriors, they’ll smartly tell you they’ve done a hell of a job defensively. Take Draymond Green for instance: “I think just not reaching. So many times he’s driving to the paint and guys are reaching and he gets free throws. I think we’ve done a good job of not reaching and just trying to chest-up and make him score over the top of us. Everybody who has been on him has done a good job.”

Green is obviously right to a large degree. The Warriors have done a good job in a lot of instances of contesting shots well without fouling, but here’s the thing: they’re not perfect — No one has been or ever will be. To not garner a single infraction out of 48 instances, against two aggressive players whose athleticism and scoring prowess rank among the top tier of the NBA, is mind-boggling!

If it’s that simple, why doesn’t everyone do it?

The Warriors certainly didn’t contain Davis and Holiday this well during the 2017-18 regular season. In three games, Davis averaged close to eight free throw attempts a contest, and in four games, Holiday averaged 4.25.

Nope, I’m not buying that Ron Adams, Golden State’s defensive guru, has unearthed some how-to-perfectly-defend-Davis-and-Holiday strategy. That all of the Warrior defenders have suddenly developed perfect hands, footwork and timing.

Look, I didn’t want to write tonight’s recap of the New Orleans Pelicans 121-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors with a major gripe about the officiating, but after watching a glaring jump ball go uncalled between Rajon Rondo and Kevin Durant during the final few seconds of the game, there was no choice. A referee blatantly disregarded the rulebook — right there in front of millions. I don’t give a shit that there was only a few seconds left on the clock. His responsibility is to respect the game and to judiciously carry out the bylaws — as they’ve all been enacted — to the best of his abilities.

That referee failed to make the correct call point blank so it should bring into question: how many other times earlier in this pivotal meeting were mistakes made? That’s deeply troubling to consider but a must given all the circumstances. In a game where there was a clear aggressor — New Orleans outscored Golden State 39-24 in fast break points and 66-38 in points in the paint — and neither team shot strikingly better from three-point range, the Warriors shot free throws at a rate three times greater than the Pelicans.

For example, this initial takedown by Draymond Green of Anthony Davis was ruled a double foul.

We witnessed Stephen Curry intentionally trip Anthony Davis.

Most of the headlines will say something to the effect of Steph Curry’s return sparking the Warriors to the win, but all I’m going to remember is lop-sided officiating being the deciding factor in a hotly-contested game that exhibited equal brilliance and effort by two very deserving teams.

Way to bounce back, New Orleans. We’re all damn proud. The entire Pelicans fanbase collectively loved the passion and fight...but it’s a crying shame you were all probably robbed of a defining victory.