Yes, the New Orleans Pelicans did turn what could have been a real embarrassment into a respectable (and spread-beating) final score Saturday.
But let’s be honest: Golden State was in scrimmage mode over the final 12 minutes. It was like one of those Harlem Globetrotters games where you know that, no matter how close the WashingtonGenerals come in the fourth quarter, they’re never going to catch up.
Don’t think so?
Consider what Pels coach Monty Williams was telling his team during a third-quarter timeout: “Our mindset right now has got to be a possession at a time, a timeout at a time. We’ve just got to get better.”
That sounds like a coach who knows his team is beaten but wants to salvage something from it.
Then check out what Warriors coach Steve Kerr was saying: “This should be fun. We’ve got them right here where we want them.”
That sounds like a coach who is telling his team that this is the next step in their reaping the rewards of an historic season.
That’s because it has been that way most of the time in Oracle Arena, where the Warriors were 39-2, outscoring their opponents by a league-best 15.3 points per game.
The difference was this time, rather than the visitors giving up, as you would in the regular season, the Pels did what you’re supposed to do in the playoffs and kept fighting until the end.
Good for them.
How much good, if any, this does them for Game 2 on Monday night remains to be seen. It certainly can’t hurt.
Obviously at this juncture, the Pelicans need all of the help they can get.
This is not the Golden State team that less than two weeks the Pels rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to beat 103-100. You know, the one that was letting up on the gas as it cruised to the finish line.
No, this is one that is incredibly quick at getting off the open perimeter shot or, failing that, finds the mismatches that create easy drives to the rim.
Fat Amy would have done a better job defending the pick and roll than the Pelicans did sometimes Saturday.
It’s a wonder that, when Stephen Curry swept past Anthony Davis, felt the contact, switched hands and managed to get the reverse layup along with the plus-one, he didn’t replicate the Michael Jordan shrug from the 1992 Finals against Portland.
When it’s going good for Curry and his teammates, it’s really going good.
How good? Curry was able to score 34 points despite going 4-of-13 on 3-point attempts (30.8 percent compared to his league-best 44.3) and missing three free throws for the first time this year.
And on defense, a team that was supposed to have nobody who could stop Davis found ways to hinder his path to the basket, at least through the first three quarters.
While the scorebook will show Davis finished his much-ballyhooed first playoff game with 35 points (three more than LeBron James had in his), for much of the game he was playing more like someone just four years removed from high school than the players being proclaimed the heir apparent to King James as the game’s best.
Although AD should have known that the contact level allowed in the playoffs is increased exponentially, he repeatedly complained to the officials about such treatment rather than getting back on defense while being whistled for an uncharacteristic number of fouls himself.
When Williams finally gave Davis a timeout in the third quarter, AD had four fouls, a total he had reached only twice in the regular season, along with a season-high five turnovers.
To his credit, Davis displayed what he’s capable of in the final period, and he acknowledged that he’ll have to come out more aggressive Monday.
Call it a lesson learned. Sometimes we forget that AD is still less than a month beyond his 22nd birthday and would have been a senior at Kentucky had he stayed in school.
And for the rest of the Pelicans, it’s an additional harsh lesson that teams coming off great seasons rarely stumble in the playoffs, especially in the opening round.
Can the Pels win Monday?
Doubtful, especially if Tyreke Evans is out.
Can they avoid a sweep? Maybe. Of the 24 No. 1 vs. No. 8 playoff series since they went to best-of-seven in 2003, just a third of them (eight) ended in just four games.
Can they win this series? Sure. And Bobby Jindal can become president.
But no matter how things turn out, it shouldn’t diminish this team’s accomplishment of just getting this far.
They’re not ready to take the next step, though.