10:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Warriors -11.5, Over/Under: 227
Elimination is the word of the day, folks, as the Golden State Warriors look to push the New Orleans Pelicans off the proverbial cliff and advance to their fourth consecutive Western Conference Finals in Game Five of their Semifinal Series from ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. Despite the considerable amount of buzz that the Pelicans (48-34, 6th in Western Conference) built for themselves in sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the First Round, and going toe-to-toe with the reigning NBA Champions throughout this Series, they have nonetheless found themselves on the brink of elimination, trailing Golden State Three Games to One. Yes, Alvin Gentry and his Charges deserve mountains of credit for picking up the pieces after All-Star Center DeMarcus Cousins (25.2 PTS, 47.0% FG, 35.4% 3FG, 12.9 REB, 5.4 AST, 1.6 STL, 1.6 BLK, 22.6 PER) abruptly tore his Achilles, trading for Bulls’ castaway Nikola Mirotic (14.6 PTS, 42.7% FG, 33.5% 3FG, 8.2 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.9 BLK, 16.3 PER), winning Five Consecutive Games to clinch a Playoff Seed in the competitive Western Conference, and bullying the aforementioned Blazers in the First Round. Indeed, looking back at their progression over the past Four Months should leave plenty of seeds for optimism. However, as they’re finding out in this current Series with the Warriors, the ride looks to be all but over. This is a problem of numbers, folks, for the collective weapons that New Orleans has in their holster continue to pale in comparison to those of their counterpart. Once again, Anthony Davis (28.1 PTS, 53.4% FG, 34.0% 3FG, 11.1 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.5 STL, 2.6 BLK, 28.9 PER) has been an absolute animal, with the bonafide MVP Candidate averaging 26.3 Points on 47.3% Shooting from the Field, along with 13.8 Rebounds, 2.3 Assists, 2.5 Steals, and 1.8 Blocks over the course of the Series, though despite the persistent matchup nightmares that he has created, it simply hasn’t been enough. While Jrue Holiday (19.0 PTS, 49.4% FG, 33.7% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 6.0 AST, 1.5 STL, 0.8 BLK, 17.8 PER) and Rajon Rondo (8.3 PTS, 46.8% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 8.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 15.3 PER), who were both decisive in the previous Series against Portland, have certainly had their moments (particularly Rondo, who amassed Twenty-One Assists in Game Three), they haven’t been able to consistently neutralize their opponent’s star-studded Backcourt. No more was this on display than in Sunday’s 118-92 defeat at home, in which Gentry & Co. let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers to square the Series away at Two Games apiece. This one was over EARLY, folks, as the Visitors stormed Smoothie King Center and hushed the raucous crowd on the strength of a dominant 37-22 First Quarter that the Home Side would never rebound from. The Pelicans managed to shoot a disappointing 36.4% from the Field, including an abysmal 4-of-26 from beyond the Arc (15.4%), and committing more Turnovers (19) than Assists (17). A game after totaling a career-high in Postseason Assists, Rondo was all but invisible, scoring just Six Points on 2-of-10 Shooting (20.0%), with Six Assists in comparison to Four Turnovers, while the aforementioned Mirotic, who has struggled throughout this Series, was relegated to just Seven Points on 1-of-7 Shooting (14.3%). Even Davis was far from the uber-efficient beast that we’ve come to expect, scoring Twenty-Six Points, but doing so on 8-of-22 Shooting (36.4%), and accumulating just One Assist and Steal apiece. It’s become clear that New Orleans functions best offensively when Rondo is free to play the role of facilitator, with everyone from Davis to the last man in the Rotation feeding off him, but now we’ve seen just how ugly things can get when Golden State made a concerted effort to take the ball out of the erstwhile Point Guard’s hands, funneling defenders at him. This is certainly a place in which having a healthy Cousins could help matters, particularly against an undersized team has proven unable to matchup with ONE dynamic Big, let alone two. Either way, Gentry and his Staff are going to have to devise a way for Rondo to operate with a bit more space, otherwise their season ends tonight, and an ensuing Offseason littered with questions begins.
Meanwhile, after getting handled soundly in Game Three, the Warriors (58-24, 2nd in Western Conference) responded as champions are expected to in Game Four, embarrassing the Pelicans on their Homecourt, and taking one step closer to a fourth straight appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Coming into this Series, it was clear that there would be a good deal of uncertainty for Golden State, who despite being heavy favorites, faced the prospect of easing former MVP Point Guard Steph Curry (26.4 PTS, 49.5% FG, 42.3% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 6.1 AST, 1.6 STL, 28.2 PER) back into the Rotation; Curry had missed Sixteen out of the final Seventeen Games of the Regular Season with a Sprained MCL, along with the entire First Round Series with the San Antonio Spurs (which the Warriors won in Five Games), and the first outing in this current set with New Orleans. He made his grand return in Game Two’s hard-fought 121-116 victory, coming off the Bench to score Twenty-Eight Points on 8-of-15 Shooting from the Field (53.3%), including 5-of-10 from Three (50.0%) in just over Twenty-Seven Minutes of action. It was clear that his teammates had missed his presence, for with the Sharpshooter on the court the reigning champs were Plus-26 Points in comparison to Minus-21 with him on the Bench. After a forgettable performance in Game Four (19 Points on 6-of-19 Shooting), the 5-Time All-Star made his presence felt with Twenty-Three Points on 8-of-17 Shooting from the Floor (47.1%), including 4-of-9 from Downtown (44.4%), while finding a way to finally minimize his Turnovers, which have been a problem since he returned; in Three Games in this Series, Curry has committed Eleven Turnovers opposed to just Six Assists, with Sunday’s victory being the first time he’s managed to create an even differential since back in March. However, what makes this team so damn special is the fact that they don’t need to rely just on Curry, for Kevin Durant (26.4 PTS, 51.6% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 5.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.8 BLK, 26.0 PER) once again proved why he is by far and away the most valuable member of the Warriors; the former MVP and 4-Time Scoring Champion has been a consistent force in the Western Conference Semifinals, averaging 28.8 Points on 49.4% Shooting, including 33.3% from beyond the Arc, along with 7.8 Rebounds, 4.3 Assists, 1.3 Steals, and 1.5 Blocks. If it wasn’t apparent just how valuable this guy is to Steve Kerr & Co., look no further than his performance in Game Four if you (really) need more proof: Durant torched New Orleans for Thirty-Eight Points on 15-of-27 Shooting (55.6%), including 2-of-5 from Three (40.0%), while adding another Nine Rebounds, Five Assists, a Steal and a Block, as he helped his side set the tone early. The Visitors buried Six of their first Eight Shots from the Field to open the Game, with Durant accounting for half of that number, as the Warriors mercilessly took advantage of the Series with Kerr switching to a smaller Lineup, that featured Draymond Green (11.0 PTS, 45.4% FG, 30.1% 3FG, 7.6 REB, 7.3 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.3 BLK, 16.1 PER) at Center, and Durant at Power Forward. Green stuffed the Stat Sheet with Eight Points, Nine Rebounds, Nine Assists, Four Steals, and a pair of Blocks, becoming the third player in Franchise History to accumulate 800 Rebounds in the Playoffs, joining the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond. Expect Kerr to stick with this Lineup moving forward, for after all, it’s brought his team so much success in the past, though they haven’t been able to implement it much with Curry on the mend for the better part of Three Months. The Shooting, Spacing, and Ball-Handling remains out of this world, but the key has always been this particular group’s ability to maintain their effectiveness on Defense, which in all honesty was why they were able take Game Five; as we mentioned earlier, the Warriors smothered the Pelicans on Sunday, relegating them to just 36.4% Shooting Overall, while sending way after wave of Defenders at Rondo, keeping the Floor General off balance, and unable to find the open man.