BY MASON BISSADA
The battle of the two injury-decimated, bottom-of-the-west teams ended in surprisingly exciting fashion as the Golden State Warriors narrowly defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 106-102 Friday night at Chase Center.
What began as a shockingly uncompetitive Warriors’ blowout of the still-Zion-less Pelicans ended in an epic shootout down the stretch, with D’Angelo Russell (25 points, seven assists) playing the hero in crunchtime. With 1:22 to go in the fourth quarter and Golden State down by three, Russell hit a clutch, difficult 3-pointer to tie the game. Later, with 32.9 to go and the game tied, Russell nailed a midrange jumper to put Golden State up two. The Warriors earned a key stop on the next possession, and all that was left to seal the game was making free throws. Overall, Russell hit his final four shot attempts and scored 10 of his 25 points in the final five minutes of play.
“Well, that’s who he is,” Head Coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He hit some big ones tonight and got it done. He’s the guy, with Steph (Stephen Curry) and Klay (Thompson) out, he’s the guy we have to rely on.”
One could argue that the Warriors shouldn’t have even needed Russell’s heroics to begin with. Golden State burst onto the scene in the first half, leading by as many as 20 points midway through the second quarter. This early success can be attributed to New Orleans’ carelessness of the basketball (eight turnovers in the first quarter) and Golden State’s selflessness with said basketball (18 of their 20 made field goals in the first half were assisted). However, this success was short lived, as New Orleans outscored Golden State 37-22 in the third quarter and entered the fourth with a three-point lead. The fourth quarter was essentially a new ball game, with the two teams trading baskets and leads right down to the wire. Were it not for Russell’s shotmaking and Draymond Green’s (10 points, eight assists, two steals) key defensive stop of Brandon Ingram late in the game, Golden State might’ve walked away with one of their more heartbreaking losses of the season (and that’s saying something).
“With a guy like B.I., you’re never going to stop him,” Green said of Ingram postgame. “He’s a great player but you do try to make it tough on him, and at that moment it’s money time. I like to get in the fray at that moment.”
Despite that key stop, Ingram (25 points, 9-17 FG, six assists) was causing a ton of problems for Golden State, as was Jrue Holiday (25 points, 10-20 FG, eight rebounds). Though the Pelicans cannot seem to get a stop to save their lives this season, their offense does show flashes of potential, particularly when they try out their three-guard lineups with Josh Hart or Lonzo Ball playing alongside the starters. It will be interesting to see how much of a savior Zion WIlliamson will actually be for this lottery-bound team, and equally interesting to see how he meshes with the ball-dominant Ingram.
For Golden State, Damion Lee continues to put the ball in the bucket, notching 20 points (his fourth 20-point game of the season) and grabbing six boards. Lee remained in the starting lineup despite Eric Paschall being available, as Kerr has said in the past that he likes Lee’s floor spacing in the starting group. Paschall’s health was short-lived, as he left the game late in the first quarter with an apparent right-knee injury. After a promising first month, the rookie-standout can’t seem to stay healthy.
Alec Burks continued to shine off the Golden State bench, contributing 18 points and eight rebounds. Burks was the beneficiary of much of New Orleans’ carelessness, grabbing four steals on the night (one shy of his season-high). Burks’ size can often go overlooked (he’s a legitimate 6’6) and this height advantage over smaller guards can lead to impressive rebounding numbers like tonight’s.
Golden State has to feel good about tonight’s win, particularly after surviving the Pelicans’ third quarter onslaught. They kept their composure and didn’t crumble in the biggest moments.
“Young teams find a way to lose at the end of games,” Russell said postgame. “You hang in there and you just find a way to miss that rebound. You find a way to miss that free throw, and older teams don’t do that. I think that’s where our growth was today. We made that free throw, we made that extra rebound, we got that stop and the results were good.”
Golden State will hope for continued good fortune as they face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday at 7:30 at Chase Center.
All 12 of Golden State’s made baskets in first quarter were assisted. Impressive and promising, but many of these came in transition after simple Pelicans mistakes that better teams don’t make.
Hopefully, we’ll never have to see Willie Cauley-Stein attempt to create his own shot from the top of the key ever again. Sad to watch.
Golden State made 24 of their 25 free throws, which turned out to be crucial late in the game.
The game was originally set to air on ESPN, but the network pulled the game three days ago due to fear of low ratings (No Steph, Klay or Zion). Can’t blame them, but the country missed a fun one!