The New Orleans Pelicans were right there in Game 5, bombing away from 3-point land and fighting for their postseason lives in a one-possession game against the Golden State Warriors.
And then, the second half started.
After a slow offensive start to Game 5, followed by an alternately sluggish and sloppy second quarter, the Warriors — as they’ve done so many times — unleashed hell after halftime, opening the third quarter with a 25-4 blitz to completely overwhelm their visitors and effectively remove all doubt about the outcome before the start of the fourth. Even on cruise control for most of the final frame, and even with the Pelicans showing the heart of a team desperately trying to avoid a closeout, Golden State had built a big enough cushion to finish off a 113-104 win, knocking off the Pelicans in five games and advancing to their fourth straight Western Conference finals.
Coming off their 15th consecutive postseason win at home, tying the 1989-90 and ’90-’91 Chicago Bulls for the longest such streak in NBA playoff history, the Warriors now move on to face the top-seeded Houston Rockets, who eliminated the Utah Jazz earlier on Tuesday, in a hotly anticipated matchup between the two best teams in the NBA this season. Game 1 tips off in Houston at 9 p.m. ET on Monday, May 14.
As they did in Game 4 in New Orleans, the Warriors’ stars carried the day. Klay Thompson got the ball rolling with 14 points in the first quarter on his way to 23 in the game, to go with six rebounds, three assists and a steal. Kevin Durant went toe-to-toe with Anthony Davis as New Orleans made its push before halftime, scoring 11 of his 24 (with seven assists, six rebounds and two steals) in the second quarter to keep the flagging Warriors afloat.
Stephen Curry still might not be all the way back; it still doesn’t look quite like he’s getting the separation he normally does off the dribble. But his shot still plays, as he went 10-for-16 from the field (3-for-6 from 3-point range), and his swagger sure as heck seemed unaffected …
Curry out here hitting shots from Narnia
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) May 9, 2018
… as he attacked for 13 of his team-high 28 points in the third quarter that buried New Orleans. Curry added eight assists, seven rebounds and a steal in his fourth game back in the lineup after five weeks on the shelf with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, which head coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors’ training staff evidently feel is healthy enough for Curry to log extended minutes:
Steve Kerr on Steph Curry: "If he can play 37 minutes in a playoff game, I think he's OK. Feels like he's back now."
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 9, 2018
And Draymond Green — Golden State’s best player in this series — was everywhere throughout, scoring 19 points, hauling in 14 rebounds (five on the offensive glass), dishing nine assists, snagging three steals and blocking two shots in 41 all-things-as-needed minutes.
Given the series Green had — sparring with Rajon Rondo and Charles Barkley, battling Davis for every inch of real estate in and around the paint, quarterbacking the Warriors on both ends of the floor, averaging a triple-double — it was only fitting that, after the Pelicans cut the lead to seven with two minutes to go, he was the one to hit the shot that stemmed the tide. It wasn’t exactly a trademark, textbook Draymond Green look …
… but it fell, pushing the lead to nine with 1:40 to go, settling things down and helping push the Warriors over the finish line, and into the matchup we’ve been looking forward to for months.
AD and Jrue went down swinging
Even going up against a locked-in Warriors squad that once again put its best foot forward from the opening tip — as in Game 4, Kerr started the so-called “Hamptons Five” uber-lineup of Curry, Durant, Green, Thompson and Andre Iguodala, which absolutely decimated New Orleans — the Pelicans fought valiantly and acquitted themselves well in defeat.
Davis was a monster, repeatedly bulling his way to the front of the rim despite the best efforts of Green and Kevon Looney to score a game-high 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting with a career-playoff-high 19 rebounds and four blocks in 46 minutes. Jrue Holiday, whose re-emergence given health and peace of mind has been one of this season’s best stories, took it to the Warriors all night, scoring 27 points on 10-for-21 shooting with 11 assists and 10 rebounds in 46 minutes, capping the best postseason of his career with his first postseason triple-double.
As they have ever since fellow star DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Davis and Holiday refused to let New Orleans go down without a fight, scoring or assisting on 23 of the Pelicans’ 29 points in the fourth quarter while helping short-circuit Golden State’s offense just enough to claw back within three possessions late, even with Rondo watching the entire quarter from the sideline after being limited by a groin injury. In the end, though, the Warriors just had too much firepower, and even if they only fully brought it to bear for one 12-minute stretch of Tuesday night, that was enough to completely erase an opponent good enough to make it to the second round of the playoffs.
And now, the main event
Now, though, Golden State will square off against a Rockets team featuring two Hall of Fame-caliber playmakers in likely MVP James Harden and an awfully good-looking Chris Paul, that has been dominant whenever Harden, Paul and center Clint Capela have shared the floor, that spreads out defenses and bombs away like no other team in the league, and that firmly believes it was built to dismantle the defending NBA champions. Twelve minutes of hell probably won’t be enough to do the job against them.
Maybe, then, we’ll see the full-strength, focused, not-throwing-the-ball-all-over-the-place Warriors starting Monday in Texas. The game tends to be pretty cool to watch when those guys show up, so, fingers crossed.
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