The New Orleans Pelicans' 119-100 win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals served as a reminder that this team can compete with the best of them.
The victory gives the Pelicans new life, but the team still faces a 2-1 deficit against the defending champions. Game 4 is another must-win for New Orleans, as it looks to avoid returning to Oakland down 3-1.
A number of stats and signs indicate that New Orleans could push the Warriors to the limit, while a few suggest otherwise.
Here's a closer look at why the Pelicans should (or shouldn't) like their chances in the series…
Reasons for Pelicans optimism
- New Orleans was 10-of-16 from beyond the arc in the first half, but only led by six points. That high-level shooting (and the six-point lead) did not seem sustainable in the second half. The shooting wasn't, but the lead grew. The Pelicans shot 4-of-15 from deep in the second half, but managed to outscore Golden State 57-44, thanks to a big half from Anthony Davis. New Orleans' ability to build such a lead while shooting 26.7 percent from 3-point range is a good sign.
- Anthony Davis has been the best player in this series, leading the way in Game 3 with 33 points and 18 rebounds. In the series, the All-Star is averaging 26.3 points and 14.3 rebounds on 50.7 percent shooting from the field. Davis scored 22 second-half points after a relatively quiet first half, reminding everyone that he is a matchup problem for the Warriors defense.
- The Pelicans backcourt duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday has been outstanding throughout the postseason. Rondo was masterful in Game 3, dishing out 21 assists in the win. This season, New Orleans is 16-3 when Rondo finishes with 12 or more assists. While 12 seems to be a high number, the 11-year veteran has done it four times already this postseason and had seven assists to Anthony Davis alone in Game 3.
- Alvin Gentry is extremely familiar with the Golden State Warriors and has game-planned accordingly. Gentry served as Steve Kerr's associate head coach during the Warriors' first championship run in 2015 and has done an excellent job preparing this New Orleans team for all Golden State brings to the table. Offensively, the Pelicans have played at a good pace and taken advantage of matchup problems.
- Ian Clark (playoff career-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting) and E'Twaun Moore (13 points on 5-of-11 shooting) made a huge difference in Game 3. The duo is important to New Orleans' ability to take care of home court, as the two become more efficient when the Pels are at the Smoothie King Center. At home this season, Clark and Moore have shot at a 51.2 percent clip from the field and 40.4 percent from deep.
Reasons for concern
- The Pelicans' defense made its mark in Game 2, as Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot only 23-of-59 from the field and connected on seven of their 24 3-point attempts. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the likelihood of Durant, Curry and Thompson all shooting that poorly in the same game again is low.
- The Warriors shot 38 percent from the field in the loss, just the fifth time this season that Golden State has shot under 40 percent in a game. In the four games following sub-40 percent shooting nights this season, the Warriors are 4-0 while shooting 53.3 percent from the field.
- Draymond Green is having quite the series, averaging a triple-double in the first three games (15.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.7 assists). This could be a problem, as the Warriors are 12-2 this season when Green dishes out 10 or more assists and 11-1 when he scores 17 or more points.
- In order to win the series, the Pelicans will need to steal at least one game at Oracle Arena. This is no easy task, as Golden State is 20-3 this season at home when Curry is active.
If we learned anything about the New Orleans Pelicans from their first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers, it's to expect the unexpected. No 6-seed had ever swept a 3-seed in a best-of-seven series prior to this year.
After Curry made his triumphant return in Game 2, many felt the Pelicans had no chance to win a game in the series. They responded with a convincing 19-point victory.
New Orleans now has the opportunity to tie the series, and there's plenty of reason to believe it can do so.
As for the Pelicans' chances to knock off the defending champs? Few may expect them to, but they're beginning to make a habit of defying odds.
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