Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be doing series previews for each and every matchup. For more in-depth analysis, check out our Eastern and Western Conference Preview Articles, which covered the conferences at-large. Find all of our NBA playoff content here and on Twitter (@GamblingPodcast and @NBAZachB).
Series Price and Game 1 Line
New Orleans Pelicans +595 vs. Golden State Warriors -845.
G1: NOP @ GSW (-8.5), O/U 223.5, +350/-440.
Regular Season H2H (3-1 GSW)
10/20/17: Golden State (-9) 128, New Orleans 120. Over 221.
11/25/17: New Orleans 95, Golden State (-10.5) 110. Under 228.
12/4/17: Golden State (-9) 125, New Orleans 115. Over 228.
4/7/18: New Orleans 126, Golden State (-6) 120. Over 226.5
Facts and Figures
New Orleans Pelicans (#6)
- 48-34 Overall. 45-36-1 ATS. 47-34-1 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Anthony Davis, 28.1 PPG.
- Best Stats: 52.4 Pts in the Paint/Gm (#1), 48.3% FG (#2), 5.9 BLK/Gm (#3).
- Worst Stats: 110.4 Opp. Pts/Gm (#29), 8.9 Opp. OREB/Gm (#29).
- Notable Injuries: DeMarcus Cousins, Achilles – Out for season.
Golden State Warriors (#2)
- 58-24 Overall. 33-48-1 ATS. 39-43 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, 26.4 PPG.
- Best Stats: 50% FG (#1), 39% 3-PT (#1), 1.896 AST/TO (#1). #1 in a lot of things.
- Worst Stats: 47.4 Opp. Pts in the Paint/Gm (#25), 29.1 Opp. Pts in 1Q/Gm (#30).
- Notable Injuries: Stephen Curry, MCL – Questionable for Game 1.
What We Learned in Round 1
Wow – I definitely did not see that coming. The Pelicans took it to the Blazers in one of the more surprising sweeps in recent memory, dominating on both ends of the floor in a series that was over before Portland ever really had a chance to get it started. The Pelicans played their best ball of the season behind great backcourt play from Holiday and Rondo and, of course, a “holy shit” performance from Anthony Davis that solidified the dude as one of the three best players in the league. Davis averaged 33 and 12 in the Pelicans series, including a 47-point performance in Game 4 to shut down the series. The complete package that Davis showed in the first round has to be considered the quintessential skill-set for a modern NBA center. Offensively, he can run the floor like a gazelle, step out with a face-up game that extends to the three-point line, finish at the rim, and shoot the shit out of the ball. Centers can’t stay in front of him and, yet he packs enough of a punch to destroy any undersized defender if a defense tries to get too cute. Defensively, he can protect the rim, clean the glass, and stay in front of any guard on a switch. If you wanted to build the perfect NBA center in a lab, you’d come up with Davis… yet, of course, get rid of that horrible unibrow.
What we learned in the Blazers series more than anything, however, is that Davis’ unique skill-set is uniquely productive when he plays at center, not at forward as he’d been for most of his career. Sliding Davis to the 5 unlocked everything for the Pelicans, where he played brilliantly next to the more perimeter-oriented Mirotic. As such, the Pelicans’ starting lineup with Davis at the 5 and Mirotic at the 4 posted a ridiculous +30.1 Net Rating against the Blazers. The two defended like maniacs and maximized each other offensively, where Mirotic’s ability to shoot the basketball created maximum space for Davis to operate however he pleased coming off of Pick and Rolls.
Elsewhere on the roster, the Pelicans got steady and aggressive performances from Jrue Holiday and Playoff “Rajon” Rondo. The backcourt duo stopped worrying about who was the “point guard” and, instead, just went out and played ball. They defended with passion and moved the ball offensively, both recognizing the value of Davis to both rack up assists and leverage him as a decoy to look for their own shots. This veteran backcourt is so essential to the Pelicans’ success. New Orleans posted a +16 Net Rating overall with Holiday on the floor, compared to -12 with him off the floor. With Durant and Davis’ unicornship likely to stalemate one another, Rondo and Holiday will have to be elite once again on both ends of the floor.
It didn’t look that pretty, but Golden State certainly flexed their muscles against an overmatched San Antonio team that didn’t have the talent or the energy to hang in this series. The Spurs did some things well, as they played super-physical ball and tried to bog down a Warriors offense that already loses a ton of spacing without the threat of Stephen Curry on the floor. The Warriors clearly miss Curry a ton, but I thought Thompson and (obviously) Durant looked like they got some of their offensive mojo back. Thompson, in particular, was fantastic, averaging 23 a game and more importantly finding his stroke from downtown. He shot 52% from deep for the series, giving perimeter gravity to a Warriors team that quietly does not have a lot of reliable shooting with Curry out of the lineup.
The Warriors, however, need another contributor offensively to take some pressure off of those two until Curry comes back. In a theoretical Iggy-Klay-Durant-Green-McGee lineup, the Pelicans legitimately won’t guard three of the five players on the floor, which will enable them to trap, double-team, and pressure the hell out of Klay and KD. When Steph returns, everyone can take a deep breath and it returns to Draymond as the playmaker with shooting all around him.
What was most impressive about the Warriors in the first round, however, was their defense returning to a championship level unit. The Warriors flat-out hounded the Spurs, holding them to just 96 points per game on 41% shooting and 28% from downtown. All of that would have amounted to the best defense in the league this regular season. Draymond and KD reminded everyone that, when locked in, they are two of the three best defenders in the NBA, and the rest of the team filled in beautifully in front of them. With Durant on the floor, the Warriors posted a ridiculous 98 Defensive Rating, and with Green on the floor, it was even better at 97. The two are so freaking good on that end of the floor and render the Warriors’ defense special once again, as it will have to be against a Pelicans team that looked like an offensive juggernaut in the first round.
Moreso than anything, however, we learned the value of Curry. If you slide him back into this lineup, they are unquestionably the team to beat. Without him, they struggle to score and will have trouble winning games that get up into the 110s and 120s.
Key Overall Matchup
Points in the Paint
The Pelicans led the league in paint points this year, scoring 53 a game there. This stems from Davis’ dominance at the rim, but also Rondo and Holiday being classic drivers who prefer to play downhill than in space on the perimeter. Rondo’s shooting woes have been well-documented, and he will do everything in his power to play towards the rim and look for Davis on the lob. Holiday, too, averaged 27.5 points during the Blazers’ series while shooting just 35% from behind the three-point line. New Orleans makes a living at the rim and is likewise shaky shooting the basketball. Mirotic is fantastic from beyond the arc, of course, but the Warriors are no strangers to dealing with jump-shooting.
Given Davis’ dominance when he catches the ball as the roll-man, I expect the Warriors to be stubborn about switching the high screen and roll. Rondo won’t shoot even if his man goes under the screen, and making Holiday prove he can hit a pull-up three makes a whole lot more sense than resigning Quinn Cook or Klay Thompson onto Davis.
Can the Hamptons 5 protect the rim when they are on the floor against Davis? Or, in other words, does Davis’ size create a mismatch against Durant/Green? Or is he just another one (albeit the most talented) of the 10 guys playing in space in a matchup that will be the perfect example of pace and space modern basketball? I don’t think the Warriors will lose to the Pelicans, let alone anyone, in a 5-on-5 matchup of modern position-less basketball. But they are certainly vulnerable to size, and the Pelicans’ success in this series will rely on Davis’ ability to overwhelm in the paint offensively and take advantage of that mismatch as if he was a true old-school 7-footer.
Between McGee, Looney, Green, and Durant, the Warriors will have multiple rim protectors on the floor at pretty much all times, all of whom will have to stay committed to a mental calculus between helping onto Rondo or Holiday and staying connected to Davis. Davis will probably get his 30 or so points a night just based on talent alone, but the Warriors need to protect against Rondo and Holiday’s supplemental 15 and 25, respectively, that push the Pelicans up into the 120s. If the game is played up there, the Warriors will struggle to keep up without Curry.
Key Individual Matchup
Draymond Green vs. Anthony Davis
When the Warriors go into their “Hamptons 5” lineup, we will get what everyone wants to see: Davis at the 5 with Green covering him. This is a strength vs. strength matchup that will go a long way in determining the outcome of the series. Green is playing like the best defender in the NBA once again, and Anthony Davis is making a strong case as the league’s most unguardable scorer. With Rondo’s inability to consistently knock down jumpers, I doubt the Warriors switch that pick and roll, leaving Rondo’s man to recover and Green to bang with Davis.
Green has had difficulty defending AD in the past but will have to keep him in check throughout this series without taking himself out of rebounding position. Davis is one of the best put-back dunkers in the league, and Green must be mindful of the extent to which he leaves Davis or leaves the floor to contest other shots at the rim. Green cannot jump with Davis, meaning he will have to be very careful about where and when he chooses to leave his feet. He only has one shot in the air.
If Green wins this matchup, there is no way the Pelicans can win the series. Davis needs to be herculean in order for them to win, so it will be up to Green to prevent him from being the best player on the floor, most importantly in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans wins if…
Curry doesn’t return; Draymond can’t handle Davis; Rondo and Holiday supply 35-40 points of scoring per game; Holiday hits enough threes to keep the Warriors P&R defense honest.
Golden State wins if…
Green continues to play elite defense; Durant’s scoring cancels out Davis’ scoring; Curry returns; a surprise scoring punch emerges.
Warriors in 5 (it won’t feel like 5 though).