Man, those guys are good.
As good as advertised.
The Golden State Warriors stand on the brink of sweeping the Pelicans in their first-round series thanks to Thursday’s historic fourth-quarter rally — on the road, mind you — that left the sports world buzzing about either:
A. The epic fail of the Pels.
B. The ability of the Warriors to find yet another way to win.
Let’s go with B because the Pelicans are being beaten up enough already.
In three games the Warriors have, in order, used the pick and roll to pummel the Pels in the paint, used their defense to hold the Pels to 35 points in the second after giving up 52 in the first and grabbed 22 offensive rebounds after having only 24 in the first two games, leading to 30 second-chance points.
We don’t have to tell you about the biggest three of those 30 — Stephen Curry’s falling down trey which sends the game to overtime and the Pels to Heartbreak City.
“They’re a tough team to beat,” Pelicans guard Eric Gordon said Friday. “They’ve won almost 70 games (It’s exactly 70 now.) and they’ve seen it all.
“You just can’t go out and take away everything they’re doing.”
But beyond the blended skills, Golden State is an extraordinary relaxed, team feel to the way they do things.
Unlike many teams who tend to go their own way for dinner on the road, the Warriors prefer to have team meals.
“We’re like a college team eating together all the time,” third-year forward Harrison Barnes said before Golden State practiced on Friday. “We’re super tight and we love spending time together.”
Of course, unlike a college team, the Golden State players have money at their disposal.
Thus was born “credit card roulette.”
After a meal not paid for by the team, the players put their credit cards into a hat and a waiter or waitress pulls one out to determine who plays (They may be brothers, but they don’t trust each other enough to let anyone else do it).
“Everybody has lost at least once,” Barnes said. “That’s the beauty of the game.”
On the court — at least at practice — the Warriors present a remarkably relaxed attitude.
Before Friday’s session at the Smoothie King Center, all of the players were available to the media, a stark contrast to the Pelicans who bring only selected players to a single scrum area.
At the Pelicans practice facility, the main court is a sacred place that no outsider is even allowed to step on. Friday, a couple of Bay Area media members were shooting hoops with club personnel before the team arrived.
Credit, Barnes said, goes to first-year coach Steve Kerr.
Kerr, who had a 25-year career as a player, general manager and broadcaster, had never coached at any level. But when the Warriors fired Mark Jackson because the team brass did not like his management style, Kerr was prepared to make his pitch — a three-hour power point presentation that began, “Why I’m Ready to Be a Head Coach.”
An important part was leadership and relationships with a team that had won 51 games the year before and returned eight of its top 10 players.
“I’d been watching this team for the last few years,” Kerr said. “I thought that one of their strengths was how loose they were.
“I didn’t want to get in the way of that, but I had to walk a little line of making sure they stayed loose, but disciplined. Maybe sometimes we do cross over the line a little bit though.”
Indeed, the Warriors are a freewheeling team that somehow managed to lead the league in scoring (110.0 points per game) but also field goal percentage (.478) while holding opponents to a league low in the same category (.428).
It’s not as wide open as Kerr described in this year’s All-Star Game when he said during a time out, “So one of your guys gets it, and like throw it to one of the other guys and then you throw it to someone else and then you shoot.” But then again, assistant coach Alvin Gentry swears that his kids claim Curry and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson shoot like their counterparts in NBA 2K15.
Maybe that was why in the closing minutes of regulation Thursday plus overtime the Warriors were effortlessly running their offense while the Pelicans could not find a rhythm.
But even Kerr admitted he was surprised that the Warriors improved to 67 victories in the regular season, the biggest-ever gain by a team that had won at least 50 games the year before and the most-ever for a rookie head coach.
“He came and said, ‘Look, you won 51 games last year, so I’m not going to flip this over,’ ” Barnes said. “ ‘We’re just going to try to improve on what you guys have done.’
“He’s just improved on that.”
Still, for all of their accomplishments to date, the Warriors have a spotty franchise history.
With the emergence of the Splash Brothers and the rest of an effective blend of youth and experience made only one playoff appearance between 1994 and 2013 and that last year was bounced by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
Conventional wisdom is that a team has to pay its dues to win a championship, and the Warriors are still three series victories away from their first title in 40 years.
But Dell Curry, who is in New Orleans to watch son Stephen this weekend, says he sees Golden State as the exception to the rule.
“They’re absolutely still the team to beat,” said Curry, a 14-year NBA veteran who is now a broadcaster with the Charlotte Hornets. “Last night was a step in the progression they need.
“You get a win, but you learn you have to keep focus if you want to keep on winning.