The Golden State Warriors looked to be having a good time in the first half of Game 4 on Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans. They forced 19 total turnovers, and Kevin Durant was unguardable.
Then, the defending champs locked up the Pelicans in the third quarter and roared off to a win, 118-92.
The Pelicans trailed by as much as 18 points in the first half, with the Warriors dominating thanks to clever interior passing. In the first quarter it felt as though the Warriors had seen something very specific on film from Game 3, dribbling diagonally across the painted area as weakside cutters moved across the baseline to receive passes and put home layups behind the New Orleans defense. Meanwhile, Golden State pushed the Pelicans out of the pace they wanted to play, almost baiting the home team into sets, then deftly rotating on defense to contest or block shots.
For much of the first half, Durant looked unstoppable. He finished the second quarter with 20 points, leading all scorers. Midway through the second period, things got a little testy between both teams and the officiating crew. In turn, Smoothie King Arena turned up the volume, and the fan support perhaps got the Pelicans out of their funk. New Orleans was able to make a little run during the final minutes of the second half to close the gap to 61-54 in favor of the Warriors at the break.
Of course, as has been the case many times in years past, Golden State turned up the heat to start the second half. Where Durant’s offensive showing was impressive, the Warriors came out even stronger defensively in the third quarter. Golden State reduced New Orleans’ 3-point shooting percentage to just 15.4 percent for the game, allowing the home team 19 points in the first period of the second half.
The Warriors continued to hum on offense as well. Their high-low passing was on point, and by the end of regulation Golden State had racked up 28 assists — six more than in Game 3. The result was a 26-point win and a 3-1 series lead as we head back to Oakland for Game 5.
For New Orleans it was Anthony Davis who led the way with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and one steal. E'Twaun Moore added 20 points. Jrue Holiday scored 19 points with seven rebounds and three assists. Rajon Rondo scored just six points but grabbed 11 rebounds and six dimes.
Golden State was led by Durant, who finished with 38 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. Stephen Curry had 23 points, two assists, and one rebound. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were helpful as they combined to go four-of-9 from 3-point range.
This is what happens when you play the best team in the league. In the first half, it appeared as though Durant was unstoppable and that the Pelicans were simply off their offensive game. Instead of trying to ramp up their shooting, Golden State did what championship teams do — clamp down.
The Warriors’ ability to shift to a higher gear on defense is what makes them so formidable, and will make them that much harder to beat in order to stave off elimination for New Orleans. Game 5 is on Tuesday in California.