NBA playoffs: Pelicans are already in state of emergency vs. Warriors

SHARE NBA playoffs: Pelicans are already in state of emergency vs. Warriors

Draymond Green, celebrating a basket in Game 1 against the Pelicans, has the highest individual net rating of any starter in the postseason. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

If you thought the Warriors’ Oracle Arena was loud Saturday night — and coach Steve Kerr swears it was as raucous as he has ever heard it — then just wait for tipoff Tuesday.

Two-time MVP and Warriors fan favorite Steph Curry is expected back for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Pelicans after suffering a Grade 2 sprain of his medial collateral ligament March 23.

The Warriors were so dominant without Curry in Game 1, winning 123-101 while showing the kind of championship swagger that had been missing of late, it’s fair to wonder if this series is already over now that they’re about to get their biggest star back. We won’t go that far just yet, but here are three reasons the Pelicans are in serious trouble.

1. Durant’s defense on Holiday

Guard Jrue Holiday was coming off a fantastic first-round showing, averaging 27.8 points, 6.5 assists and four rebounds in the sweep of the Trail Blazers. Holiday and Nikola Mirotic (18.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) gave franchise centerpiece Anthony Davis the support he needed.

But after muscling through Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Evan Turner in that series, Holiday now finds himself facing a more formidable defensive foe: Kevin Durant. The Warriors star might be listed at 6-9, but he’s widely considered a 7-footer. That length makes it tough for Holiday to find his spots, and Durant’s athleticism and speed help him keep up all over the floor.

So what happened in Game 1? Holiday, who also faced everyone from Andre Iguodala to Kevon Looney to Klay Thompson, had just 11 points (4-for-16 shooting), four rebounds, three assists and a minus-23 rating. As pointed out, Holiday was just 1-for-9 from the field when Durant guarded him.

“Well, Holiday has been really, really good, in that last series and late in the year, so he was a priority for us, for sure,” Kerr said. “I thought Kevin’s size factored in, and Kevin did a great job on him.”

Mirotic was no better, finishing with nine points (3-of-9 shooting) and eight rebounds while facing everyone from Shaun Livingston to Thompson, Looney and Draymond Green.

2. Pace problem

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry knows as well as anyone that it’s nearly impossible to beat the Warriors at their own scoring game. After all, he was Kerr’s lead assistant until he headed for the Big Easy in the summer of 2015.

So while the Pelicans’ breakneck style mostly worked during the regular season, when they played the league’s fastest pace — 102.73 possessions per game, compared to the Warriors’ fifth-best mark of 101.5 — Game 1 was a clear sign that it isn’t likely to work now. The game was even faster than normal for both, with an average of 105.96 that tested the lungs of all involved.

“Man, it was tiring,” Thompson said after scoring a game-high 27 points. “The Spurs [whom the Warriors beat in five games in the first round], they are a little older, so they play a little more methodical. This team is kind of like playing ourselves. It’s like, you make a bucket, you can’t relax.”

3. Thompson and Green

Newsflash: All-Stars, more often than not, play like All-Stars.

So now that Thompson and Green have found their games in the playoffs, it puts all sorts of pressure on the Pelicans to find an answer. Take out Thompson’s one bad game in the postseason —4-for-16 from the field in a Game 4 loss to the Spurs — and he’s averaging 25.6 points on 55.9 percent shooting overall and 52.9 percent from three-point range in the other five. Green, averaging 12.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the playoffs, has the highest individual net rating of any starter in the postseason (plus-19.6).

“Draymond is going to guard everybody,” Kerr said. “You know how Draymond is. He wants to be in the fray, and he wants to be in the middle of the floor. Middle of the action, I should say. We’re going to put him on people that are going to be in the middle of the action and probably not guys who are spotting up and shooting so that he can make an impact.”

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