The best team of the NBA's regular season has moved on to the next round. After a thrilling and improbable comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 3 on Thursday, the Golden State Warriors opened Saturday's Game 4 with arguably their finest stretch of the postseason. A sizable halftime lead turned into a blowout before the Pelicans made a slight fourth-quarter comeback in the hope of keeping their season alive, but the Warriors made enough plays late to finish off the sweep with a 109-98 win.
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Golden State's early offensive onslaught began with a 31-point first quarter that included a combined 27 points from Stephen Curry (14) and Draymond Green (13). The former has unsurprisingly been the team's offensive star of the series, but the latter has received attention primarily for his defense on New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis. Yet Green frustrated Davis in other ways in Game 4, knocking down three three-pointers in the first quarter to pull Davis away from the paint and subsequently open up lanes for his teammates throughout the night.
That impact was felt even more deeply in the second quarter, when the Warriors went for 36 points as Klay Thompson joined his two teammates with impressive scoring lines. Curry (20 points on 6-of-10 field goals and 4-of-5 three-point field goals), Green (20 points on 8-of-10 field goals and 3-of-4 three-point field goals, six rebounds, and five assists), and Thompson (15 points on 6-of-9 field goals) were all tremendous in the first half as the Warriors diced up the Pelicans defense over and over on their way to 14-of-19 shooting in the paint, 18 assists on 25 total field goals, and 9-of-14 shooting on threes.
Part of this hot start can be blamed on gaps in the New Orleans defense, but it's also very true that Golden State created and exploited many of those holes all by themselves. Frankly, the Pelicans were not especially bad in the first half. The offense was certainly fine — they shot 50 percent from the field as Davis (7-of-12 field goals) and Eric Gordon (8-of-12 field goals) each put up 19 points. They simply had the ill fortune of running into an excellent team playing at or near its peak, and the Warriors headed into the break with a 67-54 lead.
The Warriors' offense understandably tailed off in the third quarter for just 21 points, but their defense was much better to hold the Pelicans to just 13 points total and a paltry seven in the final 10:15 of the period. Andrew Bogut picked up two blocks in the first six minutes of the fourth period to clear out the paint as the Pelicans took and missed tough jumpers. Golden State didn't combine its elite offense and defense for any significant stretch of Game 4, but the fact that they're able to do both in the same game at all speaks to the team's quality. The Warriors went into the fourth quarter with a 88-67 lead and a clear path to the series sweep.
Faced with 12 minutes remaining in their season, the Pelicans made a valiant attempt at a comeback. The Pelicans complicated the final period immediately with a 9-0 run over the first 1:54 to cut the lead to 12, low enough to imagine a comeback to match the Warriors in Game 3. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, the Warriors did not acquiesce easily. New Orleans continued to score and ended up with 31 points in the quarter, but Curry scored 12 points and made several more plays to ensure the victory. The Pelicans made a late charge to get the score to 103-96 on a Dante Cunningham putback slam with 1:15 remaining, but the Warriors got Klay Thompson an open three-pointer for the dagger.
The Pelicans will leave this series entertaining several "what-if" scenarios, especially with regards to their fourth-quarter collapse in Game 3. But they played well enough in spurts to leave the postseason with their heads held high even without a single win. Davis was tremendous again on Saturday (36 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks) to become the first player in 40 years to put up 30 points and 10 boards in each of his first four playoff games. He only added to his sterling reputation in this series, and it's easy to imagine a better season for New Orleans in 2015-16 if only because Davis could become the best player in the sport. If the Pelicans learn to distribute shots more effectively in crunch time, avoid mental lapses, and add a few players, they should return to the postseason despite playing in the most competitive division and conference in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Warriors proved that their regular season was no fluke with an excellent series that showed why they are title favorites despite a lack of championship experience. It was all there vs. New Orleans — offensive execution, fluid lockdown defense, varied scoring, lights-out shooting, rim protection, resilience under pressure, underrated rebounding, etc. They should face a sterner challenge in the next round against either the Memphis Grizzlies (most likely) or Portland Trail Blazers (a bit of a long shot), but anything less than a trip to the conference finals will seem like a massive disappointment given their current form. We don't know exactly when the Warriors will take the court next, but they should put on another show whenever they do.
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