The Pelicans didn't face elimination Friday night at the Smoothie King Center, but they sure played like the season was on the line.
Behind a team-high 33 points and 18 rebounds from Anthony Davis, the Pelicans dominated the Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, winning 119-100 to bring the series to 2-1. Jrue Holiday added an efficient 21 points, and Rajon Rondo dished out an incredible 21 assists, one dime shy of matching the entire Golden State roster.
Here are three takeaways from a surprisingly one-sided Game 3...
Pelicans set tone - immediately
Within the first two minutes of the game, Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic ran right through a screen set by Warriors guard Stephen Curry, leaving the two-time MVP on his back. Mirotic earned a personal foul, but the message was clear - New Orleans wasn't about to let Golden State be the more physical team.
Shortly after that moment, Rondo got face-to-face with Draymond Green before heading back to his bench. The competitive juices were flowing early, and the Pelicans never lost their edge.
It's only been 5 minutes ... pic.twitter.com/7NISw57SwN- ESPN (@espn) May 5, 2018
Rondo and Green met again in the fourth quarter, leading to a technical foul for the Pelicans point guard. For the most part, though, New Orleans maintained its intensity without losing control of the game. The Warriors took a punch and never truly responded.
Slowing down Warriors' stars
It's tough to stop a Golden State offense with weapons all over the floor, but New Orleans is one of the few teams with enough length and athleticism to at least present a challenge. The Warriors shot 38.9 percent from the field as a team and only 30.0 percent from 3-point range in Game 3 - those aren't numbers you see often.
The Pelicans stuck to Curry when he came off screens or tried to lose his defender in the pick-and-roll. It took him 19 shots to hit 19 points, and he only had two assists. Kevin Durant didn't fare much better, scoring 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting (1-of-6 from beyond the arc). Holiday made life extremely difficult for Durant, forcing him to take contested jumpers.
Klay Thompson exploded for 20 points in the second quarter, but outside of that stretch, he was limited to six points. Thompson is shooting only 30.9 percent from the field in his last two games, though some of those attempts have been clean looks. It will be interesting to see if the Pelicans can limit him moving forward or if this is just a rough patch.
No Golden third quarter this time
The Warriors routinely used the third quarter during the regular season to create separation and essentially end games against lesser opponents. That trend had continued into the playoffs, as Golden State held an absurd 26.8 net rating in the third coming into Game 3.
However, the Pelicans were prepared coming out of the locker room this time. They started the second half with a 10-2 run, ultimately winning the quarter 30-19. Their aggression quickly got the crowd behind them, and they carried that momentum into the fourth.
The @PelicansNBA rip off 10-2 run to start 3rd Q!#DoItBigger 72 | #DubNation 58- NBA (@NBA) May 5, 2018
📺: @ESPNNBA pic.twitter.com/yDczXPUSwK
This loss should serve as a wake-up call for the Warriors. Even a squad with an insane amount of pure talent needs to give maximum effort in the postseason. Golden State now knows it can't take New Orleans lightly.