After dropping the first two games of the second round at Oracle Arena, the New Orleans Pelicans needed a big game to hold serve back home and get back in their Western Conference semifinals series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. And man, did they ever get one.
Anthony Davis dominated on the interior to the tune of 33 points and 18 rebounds, Rajon Rondo continued his remarkable postseason as a facilitator with a playoff-career-high and Pelicans franchise postseason record 21 assists, and a locked-in and charged-up Pelicans side straight-up blew out the Warriors, 119-100, to take Game 3 and cut their deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-1. They can even the series up at two games apiece by winning Game 4 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
After combining for 13 points on 22 shots in the first two games of the series, Pelicans reserves Ian Clark and Solomon Hill found their rhythm and shooting touch back on their home court. Hill, who didn’t make a long ball in the series’ first two games, made 3-pointers on his first three touches after checking in during the first quarter, helping spark the run that would give New Orleans control of the game; he’d finish with nine points and two rebounds in 14 minutes.
Clark, who earned his NBA stripes as a backup on earlier iterations of these title-winning Warriors, caught fire after halftime on his way to 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting in just 22 minutes of work to extend New Orleans’ lead. Their combined offensive contributions gave the core of Davis, Rondo, Nikola Mirotic (16 points, 3-for-5 from 3-point range, 13 rebounds, three assists) and Jrue Holiday (21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, two blocks, excellent defense) more than enough support to get on the board in the series.
Coming off consecutive wins at home, the Warriors really never seemed to get out of the starting blocks in Game 3, even with superstar point guard Stephen Curry back in the starting lineup after returning to the fold off the bench in Game 2. They opened the game missing eight of their first nine shots, failed to make tight and timely rotations to stop New Orleans’ ball-handlers and cutters from getting where they wanted to go and tried to force passes that just weren’t there. And while Curry was brilliant in his Game 2 return, he couldn’t generate much separation from New Orleans defenders off screens on Friday or get much of anything to go down, finishing with 19 points on 6-for-19 shooting to go with six rebounds, four steals, two assists and two blocks in 29 minutes.
Kevin Durant worked his way to 22 points on 18 shots, but couldn’t connect from long range (1-for-6) and seemed to struggle at times with the aggressive defense of the smaller Holiday, a 6-foot-4 guard with the length, strength and snarl to make life difficult on even one of the sport’s premier scorers. Draymond Green continued to stuff the stat sheet, nearing a triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, but he also pressed too hard as the team’s top playmaker, trying to thread the needle and too often coming up empty, finishing with seven of Golden State’s 12 turnovers. And while the Warriors had some success in stifling Davis at home, they couldn’t seem to get anything right defensively in Game 3 — a difficulty in part of coach Steve Kerr’s own creation.
Kerr’s decision to start JaVale McGee at center backfired, as New Orleans got off to hot starts at the beginning of both the first and third quarters with McGee manning the middle. The Pelicans outscored the Warriors by 10 points in his nine-plus minutes of floor time, and the two quick fouls he picked up early in the third helped get New Orleans into the bonus early and shooting free throws for the final 9 1/2 minutes of the frame; Golden State’s defense loosened up, and the Pelicans put up a 30-point quarter that helped for all intents and purposes end the game before the start of the fourth.
With the exception of a second-quarter flurry by Klay Thompson, who scored a team-high 26 points with seven rebounds, Golden State struggled to string together anything consistently threatening against a cranked-up Pelicans defense. The Warriors shot just 38 percent from the field as a team, made only nine of their 31 3-point tries, and coughed the ball up 12 times leading to 19 Pelicans points — a performance nowhere near potent enough to turn back a New Orleans team desperate for a win to avoid the dreaded 0-3 deficit out of which no team in NBA history has ever climbed.
After a chilly shooting start and some sloppy passes by both teams, the Pelicans were first to warm up and get organized, and were the more aggressive, connected and focused team throughout. They took control of the game with a 16-5 run midway through the first quarter thanks to the playmaking of Rondo, who became the first player to log 20 dimes in a playoff game since he did it seven years ago, and some hot 3-point shooting, as they went 6-for-10 from deep in the opening 12 minutes to take a 30-21 lead into the second quarter.
New Orleans extended the advantage to 15 on a Nikola Mirotic jumper plus the foul less than a minute into the second, but the Warriors would walk the Pelicans down by quarter’s end behind a sudden scorching streak from Thompson. The All-Star shooting guard caught fire in a hurry, scoring 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting in the second quarter — just one fewer than the Warriors had managed as a team in the first — to help Golden State get back within hailing distance and enter intermission down only six at 62-56.
The Pelicans quickly dispelled any concerns that they’d be spooked by the sight of the Warriors advancing in their rear-view mirror, though, coming out of halftime on fire with a 10-2 run that pushed the lead back to 14 less than 3 1/2 minutes into the second half. Golden State wouldn’t get within single-digits the rest of the way, losing the plot as the Pelicans poured it on midway through the third with former Warrior Clark bombing away and superstar Davis attacking; his emphatic putback of a missed Nikola Mirotic tip-in gave the Pelicans a 20-point lead with 4:38 to go in the third.
The Warriors never really threatened after that, turning the final 16 1/2 minutes or so into extended garbage time and sending a very clear message: the Pelicans might not have four All-Stars and two former MVPs, but they’ve got more than enough firepower to ruin your night if you don’t show up ready for a fight. If the Warriors don’t begin their Sunday matinee with the right sort of disposition, they could find themselves heading back to the Bay looking for answers rather than a closeout.
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