The New Orleans Pelicans playoff run came to a disappointing yet rather expected end on Tuesday night out in Oakland, but as the team showed throughout the course of the regular season, they proved utterly resilient until the final buzzer, refusing to lay down despite the overwhelming odds.
Trying to stave off elimination inside Oracle, the Pelicans put forth a valiant effort in Game 5. The problem was the Golden State Warriors were simply better. Although the final score of 113-104 gives a clue as to the competitive nature, it fails to include all the highs and lows experienced on the night.
On the strength of some hot perimeter shooting — 9 of 17 from the three-point line that included makes by seven of the eight players who registered minutes, New Orleans trailed by a mere three points at halftime. Moments later, though, Golden State turned on the afterburners. After scoring 48 of the Warriors 59 first half points, the trio of Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson picked up right where they had left off and led the Warriors to a dominant 36-19 third quarter performance.
Trailing 95-75 after three, it would have been easy for the Pelicans to call it a night. Haymaker after haymaker had landed right on New Orleans chin and being down 3-1 in the series to the World Champions, there didn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel. However, the never-say-die attitude of this team still decided to make Golden State earn the victory anyway, and had a 17-2 run come sooner, the Pelicans might have really made the Warriors and their faithful sweat.
“I was really proud because we could’ve easily stopped playing, but it’s not in our DNA -- none of the guys,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry in postgame media. “We were going to compete until the final buzzer went off. We came very close to really getting back into the game.”
With 2:04 remaining, the Warriors lead was whittled down to seven points. The crowd was suddenly eerily quiet, the Golden State players on their heels and Steve Kerr contemplating the use of a third timeout in the final frame. Unfortunately, Draymond Green splashed home a midrange jumper and then Kevon Looney tipped in a Warrior miss to push their lead back into double digits, effectively ending the Pelicans season.
As mentioned, the Pelicans shot the ball well from the perimeter and they got to the free throw line a little more often on the night, but the Warriors dictated the pace better from start to finish. They finished with 36 assists, scored 24 points off of 14 Pelicans turnovers and posted 26 fast break points. Thompson, Curry and Durant all finished with 20+ points and 10 made field goals apiece. Green wound up with 19 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists and averaged a triple-double for the series.
In a nutshell, that’s why the Warriors are considered the best. So much firepower and yet they can cause a lot of problems on the defensive end for opponents because of superior athleticism, length and savvy.
Anthony Davis went for 34 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks, but Golden State made him work for everything. Same can be said for Jrue Holiday’s first career playoff triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. These two stars were able to post jaw-dropping lines because they’re on that same elite level as the Durants and Thompsons, but unfortunately, not enough of the rest of New Orleans roster was able to leave a good mark. E’Twaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic struggled to get off good shots, and Rajon Rondo dealt with a balky groin.
“His groin was not in good shape,” said Gentry after the game. “He wanted to play and he tried to play right from the start — that’s why I love the guy. He’s as big of a competitor I’ve ever been around and he would do anything to help our team.”
The Pelicans competed to the bitter end — a fitting conclusion for a team that had relied on resiliency to win enough games after DeMarcus Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles and be able to make some noise in the Western Conference playoffs.
Sure, New Orleans could have played better and smarter in not just Game 5 but throughout the series, yet it was always going to be incredibly difficult to knock the Warriors out of the postseason. Celebrate the Pelicans for what they accomplished, not for where they failed. No one expected this group to make the playoffs before the start of the season or after the loss of a superstar. No one expected them to get past the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. They did all of that and more, leaving fans with lasting memories of one of the best seasons in franchise history.
Shoutout to the Pelicans for giving us the best photo of the playoffs this year pic.twitter.com/g6jXuwe9HQ— sreekar (@sreekyshooter) May 9, 2018
In addition, there’s a lot to look forward to: Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are two fantastic cornerstones, and an identity that’s easy to root for and believe in emerged.
“I think a lot of it is chemistry,” said Jrue Holiday on the postgame podium. “We never let anything keep us down. Every time that something hit us, we hit right back. As a unit, our character is resilient and we’ve honestly shown that all season.”
Best of all, wrapping up the team’s best finish in at least ten years, the main guy is far from satisfied.
“There’s no moral victories, but there’s a lot we can take from the season,” said Anthony Davis. “But anytime you don’t win a championship, I’m not sure how much success you had.”
Good luck, Houston, the Warriors are a buzzsaw, but New Orleans, be sure to give thanks for a spectacular season and one of the best rides in franchise history.