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2018 NBA Playoff Notes: Warriors suffer one of season-worst losses, free throw disparity remains, Golden State flops and Jrue Holiday dunks, shoots and screens beautifully

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Some things to ponder ahead of Game 4.

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors have been the perennial championship favorites for some time now, but since the addition of Kevin Durant to their roster, the two-time winners of the Larry O’Brien trophy have become an even more formidable challenge for opponents.

Entering Friday’s Game 3, Golden State had compiled a sparkling 22-2 postseason record since the start of the 2017 playoffs. But for one magical night, when important stakes were abound — the Warriors hoping to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, the Pelicans made them look like chumps.

In fact, New Orleans 19-point victory tied for the Warriors fifth most lopsided loss of the season in terms of point differential. If you’re a fan of advanced stats, Friday’s loss could be considered the third most disappointing effort as the Warriors posted a -17.1 Net Rating. Only two defeats in the regular season to the Utah Jazz rated worse.

Following the first two games of this series, discussion centered around how the Warriors had coasted through much of the season, especially down the stretch once a second seed finish in the Western Conference had been inked in writing. In these playoffs, the Pelicans would face the Warriors’ fully operational Death Star, not the team they knocked off 126-120 during the final week of the regular season.

Well, in Game 3, New Orleans finished with higher percentages from the field and the three-point line, more rebounds, assists and made three-pointers, and dominated the interior with a 54-38 advantage in points in the paint. Have a look at how the Pelicans set the tone early through the second of two first quarter dunks by Jrue Holiday alone!

Although the Warriors played a well below-average game by their standards, it shouldn’t take that much away from New Orleans outstanding two-way performance, and the prevailing thought among the fanbase is that the Pelicans could realistically be ahead 2-1 in the series had a few more whistles gone in their favor in Game 2.

Anyways, here’s what else I saw from the Pelicans win over the Warriors on Friday that could factor in the rest of the series.

Steve Kerr reached one too many times into his bag of tricks.

In a surprising move, JaVale McGee drew the start in Game 3 after appearing in garbage minutes once during the first two games. This was made even more puzzling by the fact that small Warrior lineups had enjoyed a lot of success in Oakland.

The Curry-Thompson-Durant-Green-McGee starting lineup was outscored by 10 points in a hair over nine minutes of action. McGee wasn’t able to take advantage of scoring opportunities, and on the other end, he wound up with no blocks and two personal fouls.

In Saturday’s practice, Kerr acknowledged the Pelicans present a “unique challenge” because he isn’t able to utilize the centers on his roster.

With McGee failing spectacularly and Zaza Pachulia much too slow too guard Davis, expect for Kerr to go back to starting a smaller lineup and likely using Kevon Looney as the only big to give Draymond Green a breather from guarding AD.

Warriors need to rethink strategy of daring Pelicans from three-point line.

Since the series began, Golden State had dared certain New Orleans players to beat them from the perimeter. Solomon Hill and Jrue Holiday did just that early in Game 3 and I feel that set the tone for the rest of the contest. All of those wide open looks and subsequent makes resulted in the floor opening up like a beautiful flower after a hard rain.

Green, who was guarding Hill, didn’t even bother to leave the paint area as Solomon cut across to the lane out to the three-point line. Consequently, even a normally poor three-point shooter has a much better chance of making the shot if he’s got all the time in the world and no obstruction standing in front of him.

Solo would go on to drain two additional three-pointers and this scoring outburst quickly helped give New Orleans a comfortable early lead. Possibly removing that pressure of playing in a tight matchup may have allowed the Pelicans to play more freely and thus not have to ponder much the aspect of going down three games to none in the series.

On all of Jrue Holiday’s three-point makes, Golden State’s defense either went under screens or the switched defender was late in contesting his shot.

Jrue Holiday is a damn good screen setter!

Holiday does so many things well on the court that it’s easy to overlook some of his solid fundamentals. One specific trait that deserves more acclaim is his ability to set a hard screen. Look at how a simple baseline screen of Andre Iguodala gives Nikola Mirotic all the time in the world on a corner three-point attempt.

Splash — this is one good example of how excellent execution leads to wide open looks which can propel an offense to go on a solid run.

No matter the size of the opponent, Holiday isn’t afraid to mix things up. His screen of Kevon Looney on an out-of-bounds play results in a gimme for Anthony Davis.

Free throw disparity remains a concern — as does Golden State flopping.

Entering on the wrong end of a huge free throw attempt disparity of 59-20, many figured New Orleans was due to close that gap moving forward. Wrong. Golden State actually wound up widening it by getting to the line a total of 26 times to just 12 for New Orleans; however, at least on Friday, it didn’t cost the Pelicans an opportunity for the victory.

The more disheartening thing in my eyes, though, was Golden State’s continued attempts to flop their way into all sorts of calls. The worst of the night was committed by Andre Iguodala, who grabbed and held onto the arm of Anthony Davis as he went by the big man on the specific play below. Notice how this action forced AD’s body to become off-balanced, which in turn led to Iggy getting hit in the head.

Interestingly, if you go back and watch the next few possessions, Iguodala was caught making several pained expressions and looked to be having trouble moving across the half court line to play offense. Yet when it came to reacting defensively, he wasn’t hindered in his movements. Perhaps the Gods were paying attention because during this time frame, Durant was doubled and stripped by Holiday on a play which led to a three-pointer from Clark on the other end.

A few minutes later, Steph tried to sell a shooting foul after what appears to be a good Ian Clark block. Watch closely. Clark’s hand touches the ball while still in Steph’s hand and Ian’s body never comes in contact with Curry’s. However, upon immediately getting his shot blocked, notice how Steph initiates the contact by changing the direction of his shooting arm from towards the rim to the right — hitting Clark’s arm and thereby giving the appearance of a foul. For added emphasis, Steph juts out his whole body and flails his legs as though he was hit by a truck.

Lastly, let’s top things off with two Kevin Durant superstar whistles. The first occurred near the end of the first quarter. On a drive, Durant created space between he and Holiday by using his off-hand to clear the defender away. Jrue even did a decent job of selling it but the referees weren’t buying.

Later in the game, Durant initiates more contact with Holiday, but this time he successfully gets to the free throw line. Notice that he reaches out with his right arm to create some leverage for a potential drive, but when that fails, he reacts to Holiday closing all of the space between their bodies by almost simultaneously throwing his head back as though he was fouled rather hard.

“And truthfully there’s no foul right there.” — Jeff Van Gundy.