When New Orleans thrashed the Portland Trail Blazers in a first-round sweep, concern surfaced that a Golden State team without Stephen Curry may be vulnerable to Anthony Davis’ Pelicans.
The Warriors quickly put those concerns to rest — for a game at least — in a dominant 123-101 Game 1 win with Curry still sidelined with an MCL sprain suffered on March 23.
They were so good, in fact, that the conversation shifted to whether it made sense to bring Curry back from Game 2 or let him continue to heal in anticipation of a Western Conference finals showdown with the Houston Rockets. Such is the state of the NBA.
Alas, Warriors coach Steve Kerr opted to bring Curry back for Tuesday’s Game 2, and for Golden State, it’s a good thing he did. The Warriors needed everything their superstar guard could muster in a 121-116 win over New Orleans to take a 2-0 series lead.
Kerr opted to ease Curry back in, bringing him off the bench. Curry provided an instant spark when he entered the game at the 4:20 mark of the first quarter and New Orleans leading, 19-11. After receiving a roaring ovation from the Oracle Arena crowd, he almost immediately drained a three-pointer from the wing on a designed play off a screen.
Three minutes later, Curry had added a layup and a trademark 32-footer to turn the game’s momentum in favor of the Warriors. By the time he left the game with 7:50 remaining in the second quarter, Golden State held a 40-38 lead, good for a 10-point swing.
A Klay Thompson buzzer-beater at the half combined with a 5-0 Warriors run to start the third quarter gave Golden State a 63-55 lead in what looked like might be the game-changing run.
The Pelicans were game, though and punched back playing a physical game focused on getting the ball inside to Davis. And they thrived once again with Curry on the bench, rallying with an 11-2 run to take back a 66-65 lead before Curry returned to the game.
Davis owned the paint, tallying 25 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and three blocks as Golden State made life on the perimeter tough for New Orleans. The Pelicans had enough to keep things close until about halfway through the fourth quarter, when Golden State held a 99-98 lead with 7:48 left.
But the Warriors found their run, this time led by Kevin Durant who scored six straight as Golden State reeled off 11 unanswered points. And while Curry wasn’t scoring during that run, he was on the floor for nine of those 11 points.
In the end, Curry led Golden State with 28 points, seven rebounds and three steals with 5-10 shooting from distance in 27 minutes. The most telling stat was his plus-26 in the plus/minus column. Whenever he was on the bench, the Pelicans thrived. Whenever he was in the game, he doused their hopes.
Durant (-5) and Thompson (-8) combined to shoot 4-for-18 from distance while logging minuses in the plus/minus column. Draymond Green was at his best, posting 20 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds while getting under the skin of the Pelicans, most notably Rajon Rondo. Durant scored 29, but Green was Golden State’s best starter.
Unlike Game 1, the Pelicans came to play on Tuesday, getting 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists from Jrue Holiday and a remarkable line of 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, five steals and seven turnovers from Rondo.
Any talk of the Warriors holding Curry for a presumed matchup with the Rockets seems silly in hindsight.
Tuesday looked like a night where they might not have won if not for the heroics of their star point guard.
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