Warriors turn up defensive intensity, lock up Pelicans for Game 4 win

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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.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Pelicans beat Clippers 113-100 to clinch playoff berth

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 28 points, Nikola Mirotic had a double-double and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Los Angeles Clippers 113-100 on Monday night to clinch their first playoff berth in three years.

Mirotic had 24 points and 16 rebounds in the Pelicans’ fourth straight victory. It will be just their second playoff appearance in seven years and they made it without big man DeMarcus Cousins, who sustained a season-ending Achilles injury on Jan. 28.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 20 points off the bench, DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds and Montrezl Harrell added 15 points for the Clippers, who have lost three in a row while being eliminated from playoff contention.

The Pelicans shot 51 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range in the first half. The Clippers fought back from an 11-point deficit to lead 47-45 before New Orleans closed on a 13-2 run to lead 59-49 at the break.

The Pelicans were just getting rolling.

Their scoring binge continued into the third, and when it was over – a 33-6 spurt over both halves – they led 79-53. Davis had nine points, Mirotic eight and E'Twaun Moore seven.

Davis stirred the crowd with an off the glass, one-handed alley-oop dunk in the run.

@rajonrondo tosses, @antdavis23 FINISHES!

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Thornwell got a roar for a jam over DeAndre Liggins in the game’s final minutes.