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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Golden State Versus New Orleans Preview

Western Conference Second Round

#2 Golden State (58-24) vs. #6 New Orleans (47-35)

Season series: Golden State, 3-1

New Orleans can win if…Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday continue to play at an elite level offensively and if the Pelicans can slow down the Warriors' high octane offense.

The sixth seeded Pelicans only won two fewer games than the third seeded Portland Trailblazers, so perhaps it is not shocking that New Orleans won that first round series--but it is shocking that the Pelicans swept the Trailblazers with an average margin of victory of nine points.

I picked Portland to win that series in six games, so the gap between what I predicted and what actually happened is probably as large as it has ever been in a series not impacted by injuries to significant players.

What happened and why was I so wrong? While New Orleans' average margin of victory was lopsided, the series was close in many ways; the teams had the same number of rebounds (174) and steals (33) and Portland only had four more turnovers (58-54). Three areas that jump out are field goal percentage (.521 to .453 in New Orleans' favor), free throws made/attempted (68/87 to 49/63 in New Orleans' favor) and blocked shots (26 to 15 in New Orleans' favor). New Orleans feasted on high percentage shots and drew a lot of shooting fouls (Portland only committed four more fouls than New Orleans despite the large disparity in free throws made and free throws attempted), while Portland had great difficulty creating or making good shots.

Anthony Davis led the way for New Orleans in scoring (33.0 ppg), rebounds (12.0 rpg) and blocked shots (2.8 bpg). He also shot .570 from the field and tied for the team lead with 1.8 spg. Often, the biggest concern for a higher seeded team is that the lower seeded team has that one superstar player who will not be denied and that is a big part of why New Orleans prevailed.

However, Davis had a lot of help. Jrue Holiday averaged 27.8 ppg and 6.5 apg while shooting .568 from the field. Holiday never remotely approached those numbers in his three previous playoff appearances and those numbers easily exceed his career-high averages (19.0 ppg, .494 FG%) in 81 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

The often-maligned Rajon Rondo showed that "Playoff Rondo" is not just an urban legend, as he averaged 11.3 ppg, a series-high 13.3 apg and 7.5 rpg. Rondo may not be a great shooter and he may have a difficult personality at times but there is no denying his high basketball IQ or how hard he competes.

Meanwhile, Portland's backcourt featuring three-time All-Star Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum came up short. Lillard struggled mightily, averaging just 18.5 ppg on .352 field goal shooting while committing a series-high 16 turnovers. McCollum played well (25.3 ppg, .519 FG%) but did not keep pace with the less-heralded Holiday.

Al-Farouq Aminu had a solid series for Portland (17.3 ppg, team-high 9.0 rpg) but no one had an answer for Davis and no one picked up the slack for the slumping Lillard.

Of course, it is one thing to shut down Lillard and quite another thing to deal with the multiple high caliber offensive weapons that Golden State brings into battle.

Golden State will win because…the Warriors have many more defensive answers than Portland did in the first round and the Warriors' offensive attack is too potent for the Pelicans to contain.

The Warriors took out the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs 4-1, despite not having the services of Stephen Curry, the 2015 and 2016 regular season MVP who has been out of action since suffering a grade two MCL strain in his left knee on March 23. It is not clear when Curry will return to action, though it is reasonable to assume that he will be available for at least limited duty at some point during this series.

The Warriors have an embarrassment of riches. Veteran Andre Iguodala, the former All-Star and 2015 NBA Finals MVP, replaced Curry in the starting lineup versus the Spurs; as is often the case with Iguodala, his individual numbers do not jump off of the page but he made winning plays as the quintessential "glue guy."

Kevin Durant's numbers almost always jump off the page and the first round was no exception: team-high 28.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 5.2 apg, .480 FG%, .946 FT%. Klay Thompson scored 22.6 ppg while shooting .529 from the field and a team-high .516 from three point range. Draymond Green flirted with a triple double average (11.4 ppg, plus a series-high 11.2 rpg and a series-high 8.0 apg), while the Warriors received excellent contributions off the bench from Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee.

The Warriors' offense--with or without Curry--will pose a significantly greater challenge for New Orleans than Portland's limited attack but the real key to this series (and Golden State's sustained run of success) will be the Warriors' defense. Davis is a great player who can put up numbers against just about any defense but it is doubtful that he will maintain both his scoring average and his field goal percentage from the previous series. If necessary, Thompson will guard Holiday and not let him run wild.

I have seen/heard some suggestions that the Pelicans could pose a real threat to the Warriors but I expect the Warriors to win in five games.

Other things to consider: The Warriors may be the most "under the radar" dynasty in NBA history. Last season, they capped off the best three year regular season run in pro basketball history, with 207 wins during that time span. The Warriors also won two titles and have an excellent chance to become the first team to take three NBA titles in a four year span since the L.A. Lakers "three-peated" from 2000-2002.

In my Golden State-Utah preview during last year's playoffs, I compared the Warriors to several of the NBA's previous dynasties. I ranked Russell's Celtics, the '67 Sixers, the '72 Lakers, the '82 Lakers, the '83 Sixers, the Bulls' "three-peat" teams and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers over the Warriors, while also stating that the '84-'86 Celtics and '87-'89 Lakers "could match the Warriors star for star."

For single season dominance--particularly during their playoff runs--I would still take the '67 Lakers, '72 Lakers, '82 Lakers and '83 Sixers over any edition of the Warriors. If the Warriors win a third title, they clearly move into a different category from teams that won one title--no matter how dominant they were during that one season--and deserve to be compared in depth with the squads that sustained championship excellence for several years. I am still not convinced that I would take the Warriors over Russell's Celtics, the Jordan-Pippen Bulls or the Shaq-Kobe Lakers--but a third championship enables the Warriors to at least legitimately enter those conversations.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:02 AM

8 comments

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8 Comments:

At Wednesday, April 25, 2018 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

"I would still take the '67 Lakers, '72 Lakers, '82 Lakers and '83 Sixers over any edition of the Warriors"


Any chance you might have meant '67 76ers? Lakers didn't do a ton that season...

 
At Wednesday, April 25, 2018 11:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Yes, that was a typo and I have corrected it.

 
At Wednesday, April 25, 2018 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

I am not sure who will win this series but I am a bit less bullish on the Warriors than you are. I am not sure, in a Curry-less world, what their best lineup here is; Davis will absolutely demolish McGee/Pachulia on both ends, but going small risks serious foul trouble for Durant or Green.

I am curious to see who is more effective: Thompson guarding Holiday, or Holiday guarding Thompson. My gut says Thompson, but Holiday showed me something last round and my mind would not be blown if he gets the better of that matchup. I think it's likely (assuming no Curry, at least) that the winner of that matchup wins the series.

Something else to consider: Alvin Gentry is a former assistant to the Warriors and knows their playbook better than most.

I think this series is pretty nearly a dead-heat without Curry.

If Curry plays, and is remotely himself, I think the Warriors win (probably in 6 as he will miss at least a few games).

If Curry does not appear I think it's a much closer battle. The Warriors are still a better team but their effort has been inconsistent even in the playoffs and New Orleans is playing with true playoff intensity, and a max capacity Anthony Davis is a uniquely difficult matchup for them, one of the only guys in the league against whom their preferred "death lineup" (or a no-Curry variant) may not be viable. In a Curry-free series, I think the Pelicans catch the overconfident Warriors napping and win in 6 games (though if it goes to 7 I'd take the Warriors).

 
At Wednesday, April 25, 2018 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

You're right that the Warriors will likely stick Klay Thompson on Jrue Holiday, but the real key is how will they scheme Rajon Rondo. If they put a bigger defender on Rondo and defend his passing lanes, and Andre Iguodola does a good job, that neutralizes a lot of the Pelicans' attack.

However. If Nikola Mirotic makes them pay from outside, this series is going 6 or 7 games.

 
At Wednesday, April 25, 2018 12:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On paper, even without Curry entirely, GS should win in 4-5 games. Davis will definitely have to be the best player in the series for NOP to even have a chance, which is a tall order since GS has KD. GS has 3 of the top 4 players in the series, and may get Curry for part of the series in limited duty. But, after the big 3 on NOP, they don't have much, while GS can go 10-11 deep, if needed.

But, I could see it going 6. If it does, NOP has homecourt in game 6, meaning the series very likely could go 7 then.

 
At Wednesday, April 25, 2018 1:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with Anonymous: Golden State is a stacked team, even without Curry. That is why I don’t think this series will be nearly as competitive as some are suggesting.

 
At Wednesday, April 25, 2018 3:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GS is a juggernaut of a team, even without Curry, just like they were in 2015 and 2016 before KD. Their stars complement each other very well, too. Some teams are lucky to get 2-3 stars, but usually they don't complement each other the best. GS is lucky here. Plus, they can big, they can go small, and every way in between. They aren't quite meshing as well as last year, but that's primarily due to several of their players sustaining injuries, which was one of several reasons that doomed 2004 LAL, and probably will be a deterrent to CLE this year amongst other reasons.

Usually whoever has the best player, or whoever has the player who performs the best, wins the series, so long as the each team's top player's cast is relatively similar. The rest is background noise. However, this isn't the case in the GS/NOP series. KD's cast is much better than Davis' cast. I do expect Davis to be the best player in the series though, but barely. It's hard to see him getting enough help to lead NOP to a series win. He'll also have to average at least 35 and 15, shoot a high percentage, play awesome defense, play 40-42mpg+, and get a little lucky, just for NOP to have a chance.

 
At Wednesday, May 02, 2018 11:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, the officials let Green get away with a lot. Curry and Green both tripped Davis on separate occasions. Green's taunting NOP players several times. I counted at least 4-5x just in the first half alone that he should've been T'ed up.

 

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