BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Buoyed by the return of Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors earned a hard fought 121-116 win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Oracle on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semi-final playoff series. It was their 14th consecutive playoff victory at home, just one shy of the NBA record.
Back on the court for the first time since March 23rd after being sidelined with a knee injury, Curry took the floor to a thunderous ovation 7:40 into the first quarter with the Warriors down by eight points, and immediately proceeded to swish a three-pointer 11 seconds later.
Having played in only one game in the past 53 days overall, Curry showed no signs of being rusty. Four minutes after his return he already had a game leading eight points on 3/4 shooting from the floor at the end of the quarter. The Warriors outscored the Pelicans 29-19 during Curry’s initial eight minute return to action, and went into the locker room at halftime with a 58-55 lead after Klay Thompson nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Coming into the game having lost 25 of their last 27 games to the Warriors after Saturday’s emphatic series opening thumping, New Orleans only trailed 88-86 after three. The Warriors were finally able to create some separation with a nine point run mid-way thru the final quarter to take a 108-98 lead. Still the Pelicans refused to go away without a fight, closing the gap to five in the closing seconds but unable to commit a foul on Kevin Durant in an effort to stretch the game out as time expired.
Guarding against a let down after their easy Game 1 win, Golden State needed their four All-Stars on the court to hold off the pesky Pelicans. Unlike the opener when they controlled the boards, they only had a 49-46 advantage on Tuesday. Anthony Davis looked more like his All-Star self and led New Orleans with 25 points on 12/24 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds. True Holiday also performed more like he did in an opening round sweep against Portland as he contributed 24 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
The Warriors were paced by Kevin Durant’s 29 points (along with six rebounds and seven assists) while Curry finished with 28 on 8/15 shooting including 5 three pointers to go along with seven rebounds. While Klay Thompson wasn’t much of a factor other than his three at the half, Andre Iguodala stepped up with 15 points and eight rebounds, and Draymond Green just missed another triple double by one rebound, finishing with nine to go along with 20 points and 12 assists.
Asked about Green’s prowess these playoffs, Warriors coach Steve Kerr simply said “I think he’s just incredibly engaged and locked in. This is the best I’ve seen him play all year. Draymond has to play hard to do what he does. I think the playoffs have energized him. Draymond has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs. He’s been saving himself for the playoffs. It’s a long regular season, especially after three straight trips to the Finals, and you can tell the difference in the intensity from a lot of our guys, but Draymond in particular.”
As for the return of his two time MVP, Kerr was asked about the decision to bring Curry off the bench. “We knew we wanted to play him 25 minutes or so. Not so much based on his knee but based on his conditioning, and we played really well in Game 1. So we decided to stick with Nick (Young) in the starting lineup, and then just play Steph in Quinn Cook’s minutes, and then just kind of pick it up from there and see how it went. I would say it played out as I expected. I knew I would play him more than what we planned. I think we planned on 24 and he got to 27, but he was Steph. He doesn’t take long to warm up, that’s for sure.”
Rajón Rondo was once again solid for New Orleans. The 12 year veteran scored 22 points to go along with 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 5 steals. Nikola Mirotic added 18 points and 9 boards. The series now moves to the Crescent City for two games with Game 3 scheduled to tip off at 5pm Friday evening.