The Golden State Warriors cruised to 67 wins this regular season, causing some pundits to wonder if they would be able transcend adversity in a tight playoff game. Monday's Game 2 of their first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans will not end that conversation, but it does suggest that the West's No. 1 seed can find plenty of ways to win when they aren't lighting up the scoreboard.
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The Warriors withstood an early surge from the Pelicans and got a tremendous and necessary fourth-quarter performance from All-Star guard Klay Thompson for a 97-87 victory at Oracle Arena, opening up their first 2-0 series lead since 1989 as the action shifts to the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans for Thursday's Game 3. The Pelicans played well enough to make their upcoming two home games interesting, but it's possible that they just lost their best chance to take a game in Oakland.
The game started very well for New Orleans and particularly superstar forward Anthony Davis, who picked up where he left off his 20-point fourth quarter in Game 1. Davis affected the game at both ends in the first quarter with a surge of activity, scoring 11 points but making impacts that didn't necessarily show up in the box score. His high level of play, 11 points from Eric Gordon, and terrific team defense led the Pelicans to a 28-17 lead after one quarter — not bad against a team that lost only two home games all season.
But the Warriors have shown an amazing ability to go on runs, and they managed to make it a very close game again within the first few minutes of the second quarter. Veteran scorer Leandro Barbosa was the unlikely catalyst with 10 first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting as Golden State began to turn around its fortunes. It quickly became a barrage, with the Warriors scoring 38 points in the quarter on 76 percent shooting from the field (vs. 32 percent in the first quarter) to finish the first half on a tear. Stephen Curry led the way with 16 points (6-of-10 FG and 3-of-4 3FG) and hit this three-pointer with nine seconds remaining to send the Warriors into the break with a 55-52 lead:
That dominant second quarter looked like prelude to another third quarter in which the Warriors could build a big lead in advance of a comfortable win. However, the Pelicans took frustrated the Warriors throughout the quarter and held them to just 29 percent shooting in the period and only seven points in its final 8:30. It wasn't a pretty sight for either squad — New Orleans only won the very frantic quarter 19-16 — but the roving defensive presence of Davis turned the Golden State offense stagnant and helped them take back some control of the game. It was impressive if only for what didn't happen, and the Pelicans entered the fourth quarter with a 71-71 tie and a chance at an unlikely road win.
They remained in decent position throughout most of the fourth, taking no leads but finding themselves down by only two points as late as the 4:00 mark. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, they struggled to find good shots on offense and failed to run the offense through their star when they needed him most. Davis scored six points in the quarter on free throws but shot 0-of-5 from the floor thanks to tremendous defense from Draymond Green, who has announced himself as a near-certain max player after just two appearances this postseason. Davis was a clear victim of fatigue after sitting only three minutes over the course of the night, but the Pelicans didn't put him in positions to succeed and generally seemed to lack an offensive identity in crunch time. The Warriors deserve lots of credit for their defense — they were the best in the league, after all — but their task was made easier.
On the other side, the Warriors managed to get by despite struggles from their own MVP candidate. Curry didn't score in the final 17 minutes and contributed primarily with drives and the near-constant threat that comes with his mere presence. Meanwhile, Thompson picked up the scoring load and went 6-of-8 from the field to score 14 of his team-high 26 in the fourth quarter.
Thompson's fine play came as no surprise, but it did serve as a reminder that the Warriors can win in multiple ways. This was not the best advertisement for their status as title favorites, and they arguably only played really well in the second quarter. But they have options — several shooters, a lockdown defender in Green, a superbly capable defender and screener in Andrew Bogut, bench scorers, etc. Charles Barkley argued against their style of play on "Inside the NBA" after the game, but he was dealing with a stereotype rather than the product on the court. The Warriors win ugly when necessary, and they're heading to New Orleans with control of this series and a very good chance to get some extra rest before the second round.
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