The best team of the NBA regular season won its playoff opener, although not without a bit of a late scare. After dominating the No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans for three quarters, the Golden State Warriors saw a massive lead dwindle to just a few points in the final minutes of Game 1 in their first-round series. The Warriors held on for a 106-99 win, but the Pelicans' comeback was instructive for both squads.
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Game 1 started ideally for the West's No. 1 seed — the Warriors got out to a huge early lead to the delight of the raucous Oracle Arena crowd. With the league's best defense and second-best offense (by efficiency, at least), Golden State got out to a 28-13 lead after one quarter by depending on their usual strengths, an attack with multiple outside threats and fluid, switching defense. The Pelicans scored better in the second quarter but still entered the halftime break at a big 59-41 deficit.
Likely 2014-15 MVP Stephen Curry served as the offense's engine with his shoot-anywhere mentality, using his presence to get regular lay-ups for himself and his teammates. Yet Splash Brothers Curry (4-of-13 from deep) and Thompson (3-of-6) did not have one of their more prolific games from outside. This game was a reminder that the Warriors offense is not wholly dependent on hitting shots. Rather, the mere threat of three-pointers opens up opportunities, and the Warriors subsisted primarily on drives and open looks at the rim because of it. It's telling that Curry was able to shoot 13-of-25 from the field for his team-high 34 points even as he struggled from the perimeter. Thompson was the outlier on the day — his 6-of-17 shooting involved a 3-of-11 mark on twos. It was Curry's creation and finishing that led the way.
However, the Warriors were more impressive on defense in building their lead. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green shadowed superstar Anthony Davis throughout and frustrated him into what initially appeared to be a disappointing playoff debut. Davis scored a respectable 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting in the first three quarters, but it's more telling that he grabbed just one rebound and turned it over five times. Green was everywhere at both ends, putting up 15 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and two blocks in an excellent 42 minutes. Andrew Bogut also excelled with 12 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two steals, two blocks, and many more plays that don't show up in the box score. He and Green proved once again that they are the top defensive duo in the NBA right now. It's arguable that their play was the biggest reason why the Warriors entered the fourth quarter with an 84-66 lead and an apparent blowout win.
Everything got significantly more complicated in the final period. The Pelicans opened on a 7-0 run over the first 90 seconds to force the return of Curry, whose 40 minutes played indicate that he will not be sitting out fourth quarters like he did during the Warriors' regular routs this season. His return initially seemed to reaffirm Golden State's control, but New Orleans kept coming and cut the lead to just 101-95 with 55 seconds on the clock. Davis was the biggest reason for the comeback with 20 points in the quarter on 7-of-10 shooting, including 16 of 19 Pelicans points in the roughly four-minute stretch that cut the lead to six. After a game of frustration, Davis attacked the rim with ferocity and showed why he could be widely seen as the best player in the sport within a year or two.
It wasn't to be for the Pelicans — the Warriors failed to close it out impressively with several missed free throws but still came away with the Game 1 victory. Davis's final numbers look pretty impressive (35 points, 13-of-23 FG, 9-of-10 FT, seven rebounds, four blocks), but the Pelicans will hope that he can impact the game over four quarters like he did for 12 minutes on Saturday. His ability to do so could decide whether they make this a series.
Meanwhile, the Warriors will hope that they can continue to build big leads and improve at keeping them. It's not especially shocking for a team to depend on an MVP candidate — that's basically the point of the award — but Golden State looked considerably worse with Curry out and got an iffy performance from backup Shaun Livingston (whose minus-21 in 13 minutes was telling, if not entirely fair). It was a good game overall for the Warriors, and there was nothing in it to suggest that they cannot carry over their regular-season success to the postseason. But the fourth quarter did serve as a reminder the margin of error is usually much narrower in a best-of-seven series.
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davis 4th 20 on 7-of-10 -- one board and 5 tos through three quarters