OAKLAND, Calif. — The New Orleans Pelicans packed up their things Monday night for the long flight home, down 2-0 in their Western Conference first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.
But the question hanging over the team had changed since Saturday.
After Game 1, the concern was whether the team had been overwhelmed by the playoff atmosphere. The Pelicans got off to a slow start, fell behind by 25 points late in the third quarter and then rallied to make the final score close in a 108-99 loss.
Game 2 seemed more like one the Pelicans might have let slip away. Golden State did not play near the level it had during the regular season, when it raced to the NBA’s best record at 67-15. But the Warriors won the final four minutes, going on a 9-0 run before a meaningless free throw late to claim a 97-87 victory.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said. “We knew we were right there, and we just didn’t do a good job of executing towards the end of the game.”
“We can beat this team,” guard Norris Cole said. “We were right there tied up going into the fourth, down two with four minutes left. They made shots. We didn’t. We don’t believe in moral victories, ‘Oh, we did good.’ An ‘L’ is an ‘L.’ ”
Cole then made probably the most important point.
“Of course we wanted to get one (win on the road), but you can’t change the past,” he said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself this time of year.”
New Orleans played a phenomenal game on defense, holding the NBA’s highest-scoring team 13 points below its average. The Warriors had a bizarre shooting split, hitting 32 percent (7 of 22) from the floor in the first quarter, 77 percent (13 of 17) in the second, 29 percent (7 of 24) in the third and 48 percent (11 of 23) in the fourth. It added up to 44 percent on the night.
NBA MVP candidate Stephen Curry was inconsistent, scoring 22 points on 9-of-21 shooting (3-of-9 from 3-point range). Klay Thompson scored 26 on 11-of-17 shooting, but there wasn’t much consistency beyond that.
“Both games, Games 1 and 2, we’ve held them under their average,” Cole said. “We only gave them 97 points tonight, but the offense didn’t come through.”
“The whole second half, we just couldn’t get much going,” coach Monty Williams said. “The offensive rhythm is important against a team like Golden State because they can run it down your throat.”
That was especially true in the second half, when the Pelicans managed just 35 field-goal attempts, including 16 in the fourth quarter. New Orleans made just four shots in the final period; five turnovers in the quarter hurt, but the offense seemed out of sync all half.
And yet the Pelicans were so close. A break here, a made shot there and they could have stolen the game.
Instead, it was a long flight home down 2-0. Game 3 is at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Smoothie King Center, and the Pelicans will be looking to hold serve.
“We’re going back home,” Davis said. “Our crowd is going to be just like this crowd, if not better. Not that you can top this because it’s pretty hectic in here, but we’re going to need them. Hopefully we can come out with some wins at home and try to make this a series.”