The New Orleans Pelicans have finally garnered that elusive first playoff victory against the Golden State Warriors. After dropping the first two games of this series — and factoring in that sweep from three years ago by a Stephen Curry-led group, Friday night’s 119-100 win tasted particularly good.
Of course, many had already hopped off the bandwagon, doubting New Orleans would manage even one victory, let alone in such dominant fashion. Well, there are some things you just can’t explain, I guess, if you’ve watched this team from afar like most national naysayers.
When the final buzzer sounded, though, the Pelicans victory honestly didn’t feel out of the norm. For a team previously down 0-2 against a historical juggernaut, there was a noticeable calm emanating from the players that was difficult to fathom leading up to Game 3.
The Pelicans were closer than most people think to splitting their first couple of games in Oakland. Game 1 contained a surprise lineup from the Warriors, which later led to a dreadful second quarter performance that effectively ruined New Orleans chances for the win before halftime.
However, despite the return of Stephen Curry, Game 2 was much more competitive and had the ball bounced a little more often in favor of the Pelicans — neither Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday attempted a single free throw, New Orleans might have been in great position to steal a win.
Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, and myself are all tied in free throw attempts tonight.— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) May 2, 2018
Two consecutive losses to start a series can break most teams, but not this version of the New Orleans Pelicans. They were strong, resilient, confident, and sometimes even a little petty.
Did Rondo try to trip Draymond pic.twitter.com/95GYe0z2fV— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 5, 2018
Some may only recognize Rajon Rondo in the playoffs for his antics with Draymond Green. However, Rondo proved his worth time and again over the course of the season, as he is undoubtedly the leader of this team despite boasting Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Simply put, he’s the engine that makes this New Orleans team fly.
“Playoff Rondo” continued his postseason excellence by finishing with 4 points, 10 rebounds, and 21 assists. It was a show we all should feel privileged to watch — unless you’re a Boston Celtics fan and remember seeing this act before.
Rajon Rondo had 21 assists vs the Warriors in Game 3. The last player to have 20 assists in a playoff game?— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2018
Rajon Rondo in 2011, as a member of the Celtics pic.twitter.com/pDStdIWOpL
Every time the Warriors started one of their classic runs, the feisty veteran, with a quarterback’s mentality, calmed the waters and led the Pelicans to respond with points of their own.
It’s a presence that New Orleans Saints players in attendance on the night, Mark Ingram and Cam Jordan, know very well. You may have heard about the leader they play with who wears the number 9 as well — Drew Brees — but it’s an element that the city’s basketball team used to lack in the past.
As usual, Rondo’s favorite recipient was Anthony Davis, assisting the superstar big man on seven shot attempts. After a frustration-filled first two games, Davis was finally able to let loose a little, and there was absolutely nothing standing in his way.
Additionally, Jrue Holiday continued his strong play on both sides of the floor, finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, to go along with two steals and two blocks.
Nikola Mirotic, who has really taken to playing in the Smoothie King Center, had another strong playoff showing, compiling a double-double that included 16 points, 13 rebounds, three three-pointers and three assists.
Oh, and did we mention the Ian Clark revenge game finally happened?
18 points in 16 minutes for Ian Clark against his former team pic.twitter.com/t5xa06jwna— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) May 5, 2018
On the defensive side of the ball, NOLA was as good as one could hope versus Golden State. When asked about it in postgame, though, Alvin Gentry was not comfortable in speaking about the gameplan — even in the slightest.
"You think I'm going to tell you that? You know better than that!"— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 5, 2018
Alvin Gentry wasn't trying to give anything away pic.twitter.com/F3cAQUN6Tw
New Orleans held the Warriors to 38 percent shooting from the field and 28 percent shooting from deep. No matter the game plan or circumstance, that is beyond impressive, especially when you consider the Warriors biggest three scorers — Steph, Klay and KD — still managed to total 67 points together. But, hey, it did take them 59 field goal attempts!
Home cooking will do that for you, as the Pelicans reaped a lot of the same benefits as the Warriors often did in the first two games: a lot of close calls go to the home team. Maybe that’s a little unfair considering the referees “letting them play” throughout the night, but there was a clear difference in the quality of calls in Game 3 versus the games in Oakland.
Yet, as always, the Pelicans chose not to complain when things didn’t go their way, instead opting to push through obstacles without sarcastic actions or overly emotional reactions. New Orleans has treated so much of their playoff experience as just another game. No matter the outcome, they have taken it as a natural effect.
And of course, this recap wouldn’t be complete without mentioning New Orleans sixth man, who showed up in a big way. After every momentum changing play, the SKC crowd cheered vigorously. When things didn’t go well, they booed vehemently.
This will be important going forward. While notching their first semifinals playoff win since 2008 calls for at least a slight grin, the Pelicans are already thinking about the battle that’s going to take place in Game 4.
Alvin Gentry: "Game 4 will be the toughest game that we've ever had."— Christian Boutwell (@_CBoutwell) May 5, 2018
That’s what maturity and mental toughness can do for a team. Instead of being the team that accepts getting bullied, you show flashes (sometimes ugly) of being the bully yourself. But sometimes, it’s just helpful to hear 17K+ in your corner.
As for the national media’s favorite narrative, Draymond Green’s comments after the game about his ongoing feud with Rajon Rondo are all you need to hear.
Draymond Green pretty damn adamant he has not been trying to bait Rajon Rondo. pic.twitter.com/he3z7uiQOQ— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) May 5, 2018
They’re even better when coupled with Rondo’s response.
Rajon Rondo on Draymond Green: "I don't try to bait him into anything. He talks a lot of sh––. It's just part of it. We're competing." pic.twitter.com/DuQRXriei0— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 5, 2018
If, even for a day, the best basketball team in the world is thinking about something other than the play on the court itself, that’s great for New Orleans basketball, who is swimming uncharted territory — beating a nemesis that had won the previous 26 of 28 meetings.
This fact is especially true when considering that New Orleans basketball was marred by criticism most days since the last offseason: From the composition of the roster, to the lack of support from the city, to potential impending moves. There’s usually been more focus on the things that have or could have gone wrong, than the elements that have went in the right direction. For one night, however, nearly all pessimistic thoughts were emphatically put to bed.
The Pelicans have had more meaningful playoff wins, but it’s been a damn long time. Savor this moment, but realize that things could truly turn special if New Orleans pulls off the unthinkable again in less than 48 hours time.
How sweet would it be if this Pelicans and Warriors series is tied at two games a piece on Sunday evening???