BY MASON BISSADA
The yet-again shorthanded Golden State Warriors put up a tough fight on Sunday night against one of the league’s most exciting young teams, the New Orleans Pelicans, falling short by a score of 115-101 at the Chase Center.
Despite holding a double-digit lead at halftime, Golden State (who only had nine available players) allowed the Pelicans to chip away at the deficit in the third quarter before essentially surrendering in the fourth. New Orleans outscored Golden State 69-45 in the second half, cutting down on their turnovers (nine in the first half as opposed to four in the second) and taking advantage of the Warriors negligible rim protection.
Top overall pick Zion Williamson continues to live up to the hype, putting on a show for Warriors fans who have been deprived of highlights for the majority of the season. Williamson seemed to be dunking on every other possession, flying over the top of defenders like Eric Paschall and Andrew Wiggins with trampoline-like explosiveness. Williamson scored 28 points on 13-20 shooting, showing off his skillset beyond athleticism with a soft touch around the basket and impressive footwork.
“He’s explosive, strong and he knows how to play,” Head Coach Steve Kerr said of Williamson postgame. “He makes really good passes out there, recognizes double teams and scores so easily around the rim because of his power. He’s a really great, young player without much experience at all. He’s only going to get better.”
Finding Williamson for a majority of his alley-oop slams was Jrue Holiday, who dropped a season-high 15 assists to go along with his 23 points. Holiday’s ability to play alongside other playmakers like Lonzo Ball (nine assists) and Brandon Ingram (17 points, five assists) make him a dynamic all-around guard. In addition to Williamson, Holiday often found rookie Nicolo Melli (20 points off the bench) who hit six of his seven 3-point attempts. With three ball-handlers in their starting lineup and the Warriors lack of a true perimeter stopper (Draymond Green sat with a right pelvic contusion), it’s no surprise that the Pelicans had 34 assists on 46 made baskets.
Damion Lee was once again Golden State’s go-to offensive weapon, dropping yet another 20+ point game with 22 points on 9-15 shooting and 4-8 from downtown. 15 of those points came in the first quarter, in which Lee scored 13 of the Warriors first 15 points. Lee’s jumpshot and energy in transition make him an excellent offball guard. He rarely forces bad shots, even when he’s made a few jumpers in a row. Ideally, he’ll be an excellent backup shooting guard to Klay Thompson next season.
Jordan Poole continues to impress with his late-season resurgence, scoring 19 points on 8-14 shooting to go along with five assists. Poole’s passing has become a real asset for him, and gives Kerr a reason to keep him on the court even when his shots aren’t falling. His passing has also allowed him to surpass Ky Bowman as the team’s starting point guard until Steph Curry returns.
“Just try to get your teammates into good positions, get them where they want the ball,” Poole said when asked about his role as a lead ball-handler. “Be smart when you got the ball in your hands and you kind of got to control the tempo and it’s small things like that. Try to get a good shot, don’t go too many possessions without getting up good looks. It’s a lot of stuff that goes into it.”
Juan Toscano-Anderson had one of his more impressive games as a Warrior, scoring a career-high 16 points on 6-10 shooting and hitting three of his five three-pointers. Toscano-Anderson had multiple dunks, showing off his hidden athleticism and often playing the stretch-4 role due to a short-handed roster. His combination of size and shooting ability make him a very-poor-man’s three-and-D wing, something teams can never have enough of in today’s NBA.
In his first game with the Warriors after signing a 10-day contract with the team earlier in the day, former lottery pick Dragan Bender (six points, five rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes) showed flashes of what drew scouts eyes back in 2016. His passing instincts are solid for a big man, and his floor spacing is desirable in theory (though it has never been fully realized throughout the first four years of his career). His rim defense is underwhelming, but the Warriors will have to make due while Marquese Chriss is out with left calf soreness.
“It’s fun to be out there,” Bender said postgame. “It’s a really good system. Just watching those guys play the last couple years, and playing against them, it’s a fun place to be.”
Andrew Wiggins (who turned 25 years old today) had one of his worst offensive games as a Warrior, shooting just 3-16 from the field for eight total points in 34 minutes of play. Wiggins jumpshot wasn’t falling, but he found other ways to be effective, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking two shots. Wiggins will begin to see easier looks once he is surrounded by more experienced offensive players, but until that time he may continue to force up difficult attempts out of necessity.
Golden State simply had no defensive answer for Williamson, and this was likely the key factor in tonight’s loss. It would have been intriguing to see how Draymond Green would’ve approached the defensive assignment of Williamson, seeing as he is one of the few players in the league that is big enough to contain him in the paint while also mobile enough to slow him down on drives.
Golden State next welcomes the Kings to the Chase Center on Tuesday, facing off against Sacramento at 7:30 p.m.
Dragan Bender, the #4 overall pick in the 2016 draft, averaged 5.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 20 minutes per game over the first four seasons of his career.
Prior to tonight’s matchup, Golden State had won 13 of their last 14 home games against New Orleans and 25 of their last 28 overall.
Golden State will split the season series with New Orleans, going 2-2 against the Pelicans this year.
Damion Lee has scored 20+ points in all three of his matchups against New Orleans this season, averaging 21.7 points per game.