Thanks a lot, Pop.
Your San Antonio Spurs ran Oklahoma City out of its building Tuesday, opening the door for the Pelicans to take over eighth place in the Western Conference.
Of course, that’s pretty much SOP for the SAS and their irascible coach this time of year, so it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. But still, the Pels can use all the help they can get.
And thank you, Steve Kerr and Steph Curry.
Unintentionally, you gave the Pelicans extra motivation to score a rousing 103-100 victory over your Golden State Warriors, kicking that door wide open — for now, at least.
With five games remaining — starting with the second half of a back-to-back Wednesday at Memphis — the Pels are a half-game up on the fading Thunder, which has four to go.
And don’t forget, if they finish tied, the tiebreaker goes to New Orleans.
And also don’t forget, if the Pels do make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, their opening-round opponent will be same Golden State team that they managed to defeat Tuesday.
“They came out and said this was going to be a scrimmage game,” said Anthony Davis, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. “We kind of took that personally.”
Who would say such a thing? This is the NBA. You’re supposed to honor the game and respect your opponent.
Turns out, apparently nobody.
But during the shootaround, Kerr did say that instead of resting his starters, as he has been doing of late with the No. 1 seed in the West wrapped up, he would be limiting their minutes — in large part because he was displeased with his team’s “lousy effort” in a 107-92 loss on Sunday at San Antonio (Thanks again, Pop). That’s reasonable.
Kerr did what he said he would do. Draymond Green (34:53) and Curry (34:45) logged the most time for Golden State, although those numbers were actually above their season norms, a reflection of how good and how deep the Warriors are.
And Curry, during the same shootaround, added that “there’s going to be a playoff atmosphere tonight.
“We want to give a team we might be seeing in the playoffs something in the mental bank to remember us by if we have to come back here.”
Maybe that’s a little audacious (“They don’t lack for confidence, do they?” was Pels coach Monty Williams’ reaction to hearing what Curry said), but hardly fighting words.
Until somehow when it got back the Pelicans players, the word “scrimmage” had gotten mixed in.
Wonder how those things happen?
Maybe it was the league version of telephone.
Surely somebody didn’t twist things around to motivate the underdogs.
The Pelicans came out and went toe-to-toe with the best team in the league.
They overcame a 12-point halftime deficit (Golden State was 50-3 when leading at the break).
They battled back in the third quarter, including one sequence when the lead either changed hands or the game was tied on nine consecutive scores, bringing the sold-out Smoothie King Center crowd to its feet, cheering a big-boy effort by both teams.
And after taking a 79-78 lead into the fourth quarter, they led for all but less than a minute the rest of the way.
The key: With the score tied at 100, Tyreke Evans’ scrambling back to prevent Andre Iguodala getting a breakaway basket, forcing a last-touch by Iguodala, suffering a likely bruised shoulder in the process.
Evans, the Pels’ leader in games played with 74, was then tripped as he crossed midcourt.
Limping and grimacing, he made one of two free throws to put his team ahead for good.
If Davis’ 3-point buzzer-beater at OKC is the season’s signature play, this was a close second.
Fittingly enough, Curry missed two shots in the closing seconds.
“They brought it,” Kerr said. “We knew they were going to bring it. I thought in the second half, we weren’t ready for their desperation.”
Kerr added he didn’t know where the “scrimmage” remark came from.
Which he probably didn’t.
And Tuesday’s defeat shouldn’t hurt the Warriors much in the long run.
Their magic number for clinching home court throughout the playoffs remain at one.
They need only to split their remaining four games to become just the 17th team in league history to win at least 65 games. Of those previous 16, 13 went on to win the championship.
They’re 10 games better than anybody else in the West, which is being touted as the deepest conference in memory.
They’ve already won the most games in the history of a franchise whose history goes back to the earliest days of the league; won their first division title in 39 years; and Kerr has become the winningest rookie coach in league history.
But on this night, the Pels were better.
Will they be in the playoffs?
Probably not. History is definitely against them.
And they’re not there yet, although OKC has now lost four in a row. Getting blown out at home like they did Tuesday can’t be good for a team’s psyche, even if the remaining schedule is still in their favor.
Meanwhile, the Pels have won five of six, and a team that was 20-21 halfway through the season with all the appearance of fading away has been 22-14 since then.
Tuesday’s victory cliched a winning season — the first for the Pels since they were still the Hornets back in that last Chris Paul-David West season five years ago.
And it has the potential to have accomplished much, much more than that.
So, thanks again, Pop, for helping to make it possible.
And thanks to the Pelicans for showing what they’re made of.