OAKLAND, Calif. —Welcome to Earth.
Or at least the stratosphere of competing for an NBA championship.
After breezing through a four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, the New Orleans Pelicans were greeted to a cold, hard reality check of what’s required to reach the Western Conference Finals.
A 123-101 loss to the swarming, steaming and preening Golden State Warriors showed the underdog Pelicans precisely what they’re up against.
“I think it’s a little big bigger, because we are playing against Golden State in the semifinals,” Nikola Mirotic said before the game. “We know we have a shot, so everyone is kind of excited and we know what we did against Portland isn’t going to be enough to beat Golden State.”
Mirotic was right.
This isn’t Portland. And this isn’t the regular season, when New Orleans tallied a victory in this building three weeks ago.
Instead, it was playoff basketball against the defending champions inside Oracle Arena, and when the game started to go downhill it slid alarmingly fast.
Klay Thompson scored a game-high 27 points. Kevin Durant added 26. Draymond Green tallied a triple-double.
And two-time MVP Stephen Curry didn’t even play, likely to make his playoff debut in Game 2, on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m.
The Pelicans don’t need to go searching on what to improve before then. They’ll fast forward the game film to the second quarter.
“I think we hang our hats on defense and what happened in the second quarter is inexcusable,” Rajon Rondo said. “I can't blame it on a week off of rest. It's a lack of communication and not being disciplined. If we can clean that up, I think we'll be fine."
After a back-and-forth first quarter, Golden State fired off cannon blasts in the second, feasting on Pelicans’ turnovers as New Orleans tossed sloppy passes into traffic, which the Warriors happily gobbled up and turned into baskets at the other end.
They were the precise mistakes nearly every Pelicans’ player and coach preached about in their weeklong layoff. And just as they predicted, the turnovers were fatal.
“We had 12 turnovers but we probably in actuality with bad shots, we probably had 25 turnovers,” Alvin Gentry said. “And it's just one of those things that we talked about. You can't do that with this team.
“They are so disciplined in what they do, that if you turn the ball over, they are going to make you pay, and they get out in the open court and that's what makes it tough.”
Golden State turned seven first-half takeaways into 15 points, jolting the home crowd and setting the stage for one of the most lopsided quarters the Pelicans have ever suffered through.
In just 10 minutes Golden State turned a tied game into a 28-point lead, throwing a haymaker 25-2 run during a six minute stretch that amped Oracle to its loudest point of the season, according to coach Steve Kerr. What started with a handful of turnovers devolved into a full system breakdown as Golden State picked apart every facet of the Pelicans’ game plan.
New Orleans’ offensive looks were nearly non-existent, as Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were held to just two points each in the period, thanks to pristine defensive switches and an endless array of double teams and hedges to cut off any clean attempts at the bucket.
“I think we’re a little off rhythm,” Holiday said. “We were smoking lay ups. Shots that usually go in weren’t going in.”
Meanwhile, Golden State did exactly what’s led them to three straight Western Conference crowns.
In addition to pouncing on every turnover, the Warriors buried four 3-pointers, while converting 13-of-20 field goal attempts. It led to a 76-55 halftime advantage.
“Defensively, we just gave up a lot of dunks,” Davis said. “Easy dunks. Nobody within five or six feet.
It was the most points the Pelicans have ever allowed in a half, and came on the biggest stage in franchise history.
Even Darius Miller’s 76-foot, buzzer-beating heave, the longest playoff shot made in 20 years, wasn’t enough to salve the wound opened up by the second quarter buzzsaw Golden State laid on them.
There was a lot of things about the second quarter the New Orleans Pelicans likely want to forget in their series opener with the Golden State…
While the Pelicans’ made a handful of runs in fits and spurts, they weren’t nearly enough to chop significantly into the lead and Golden State answered back every time with a counter of its own to keep the advantage beyond 20 points throughout the fourth.
In fact, coach Alvin Gentry chose to sit Davis and Holiday throughout the fourth quarter, allowing Jordan Crawford to come off the bench and score 14 points. He was the third-leading scorer.
“I want us to embrace the challenge,” Gentry said.
In Game 1, the challenge smacked the Pelicans across the face. Now, they’ll turn their attention to the remainder of the series, hoping to regain their footing and bounce back from a decisive defeat.
“We're very confident,” Davis said. “It's one game. They win by 40, you win by one, 90, it's one game. It's still best-out-of-seven. Our job is to learn from what we messed up tonight and get prepared for Game 2.
“We know we're a much better team than what we showed tonight defensively. We showed that last time we played here, so we just got to come out with a different mindset to have pride in our defense and try to get out and run.”