The Pelicans were sick and tired of being asked about their 2014-15 season’s first round exit to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. Until this season, it had been the first and only playoff appearance for the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis era. It had also been an extremely quick exit as the Pelicans were swept by the Warriors. The most crushing loss of that series came in overtime of Game 3 after the Pelicans had held a 20 point lead heading into the 4th quarter. Despite their irritation, the Pelicans could not escape questions about that series that they so greatly wished to forget.
The first wave of questions came when the Pelicans made the Playoffs this season. It was the first time since that fateful series. Reporters wanted to know how motivated the Pels were by the series and what they would do to change their former playoff fortunes in their upcoming series against the 3-seeded Toronto Raptors.
The second wave came after New Orleans took a 3-0 series lead against Toronto. Reporters asked how important it was to finish off the first round series after the Pels being bounced early in the only other playoff appearance of Davis’ career.
The third wave came after the Pelicans had completed the sweep of the Trail Blazers in Round 1 and it was becoming clear that the Pelicans would be facing off against their 2014-15 opponent, Golden State, in the next round. Reporters wondered how the Pelicans would compete against the team that had dismantled them just a few years prior and were one of the primary championship favorites for the fourth season in a row.
On Friday night, with a resounding 119-100 win, the Pelicans put an end to those questions. While the questions may have been finally answered to NBA fans and the media as the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Head Coach Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans players found their answer a little earlier in the night. Gentry told reporter after the game that, “during one timeout he (Anthony Davis) said, ‘we’re not losing this game. I don’t care what, we’re not losing this game.’” When asked about the comment, Davis said, “That was the message. We can’t lose this game. It’s always tough to come back from 0-3. Our mindset is to go out there, play, and do what we’re supposed to do. Follow the game plan. Whatever results happen, happen.”
The Pelicans did more than just follow the game plan. They out-shot, out-rebounded, and out-defended the defending NBA Champions. After a sloppy start to the game that featured a lot of turnovers and miscommunications from New Orleans, the Pelicans started to put it together when Soloman Hill, Anthony Davis, and then Soloman Hill again, hit back to back to back threes on three straight possessions midway through the 1st quarter to give the Pels a 6 point lead. The Pelicans continued hot shooting, solid defense, and 10 assists from Rajon Rondo led to a 62-56 New Orleans lead at halftime.
The 3rd quarter was where the Pelicans finally took off. With 2:13 left in the quarter, the Pels had built their lead to 25 points on the backs of 14 points from Anthony Davis and 8 more from Ian Clark. Despite leading 92-75 heading into the 4th quarter, the Pelicans knew they could not take their foot off of the gas thanks to the lingering memory of the Warriors previous, game three, 20-point, 4th quarter comeback from three years ago. This time, however, the Pelicans managed to maintain their 4th quarter lead and finished off the Warriors to a score of 119-100.
Anthony Davis finished the night with 33 points and 18 boards. Rajon Rondo also played a pivotal role in the Pels win as he added a 10 rebounds and a whopping 21 assists. The performance made Rondo only the third player in NBA history (alongside John Stockton and Magic Johnson) to record multiple 20+ assist playoff games in a career. With the win, the Pelicans close the series gap to 2-1. Looking ahead, the Pels aim to even the series with the Warriors in Game 4 in New Orleans on Sunday and to continue to keep silent those who had previously questioned their recent playoff history and future potential.