In my eyes, the NBA playoffs are great because of how a series changes from beginning to end. While Game One between the Warriors and Pelicans was fun and important, the greater significance of the first game in a seven game series stems from how it fits into the final picture.
The main takeaway for me and likely for the Pelicans is that for this series Anthony Davis should primarily play Center. The Brow makes his biggest positive impact on defense when sticking closer to the basket, which makes guarding Draymond Green regularly problematic for New Orleans. Draymond is an incredibly smart player who knows this too and kept Davis from disrupting some of Golden State’s better plays during the first half. The backdoor cuts kept coming even after this adjustment but the New Orleans D became less of a turnstile in the fourth quarter.
If the Pelicans make that shift, the Warriors will have some interesting choices to make in response. Andrew Bogut did a nice job on Davis for the most part but keeping him on AD likely leads to more Davis midrange jumpers and high pick and roll action with the goal of taking Golden State’s rim protector away from the basket- the same thing the Warriors did to necessitate Davis’ shift. When New Orleans plays Ryan Anderson with Davis, those choices get even harder defensively because the Cal product stretches the floor all the way out to the three point line. Those circumstances likely force Kerr’s hand (and Bogut on Davis) but the tradeoff is the Pelicans having a poor defender one on one and as a helper on the other end on the floor. Expect to see more Dante Cunningham as well since he takes some of Anderson’s positives away but can contribute more defensively.
In terms of the Warriors, Game One showed that they have some new tricks for the playoffs and a desire to change things up on opponents. New Orleans coach Monty Williams talked post-game about how the Warriors ran lots of side pick and roll when the teams faced one another earlier in April and totally flipped the script on Saturday. Using the center of the floor more regularly forced the Pelicans to make some hard choices and they typically elected to try and take away Stephen Curry’s deep ball. The MVP’s development as a ballhandler and distributor makes that incredibly tough to sustain for defenses because his penetration and passing combined with a Golden State lineup that can move the ball yielded lots of good looks. Having Davis closer to the rim will change some of those shots moving forward but expect to see the Pelicans alter their philosophy on what they give Steph.
Another fun example came when Curry actually set a screen for Klay Thompson when both of them were off the ball. We have seen some 1-2 pick and rolls with the two of them throughout the season but doing so with a third person holding the ball forces the defense to give up something they do not want to sacrifice as long as Curry can take the hit without getting injured.
Along these lines, the other major change I expect to see is Jrue Holiday in the starting lineup for New Orleans. Even at below 100% while he recovers from a stress fracture in his right leg, Justin’s brother can do the most competent job defending Stephen Curry and the Pelicans will need his ballhandling if Tyreke Evans has to miss any time or face limited minutes (Evans told the media “felt a little pop” and had to leave Game One). Injuries have put Coach Williams in a hard spot but lining up behind his Point Guard gives them the best chance.
Finally, we learned something folks should have already expected: no series in the Western Conference will be easy. The Pelicans have a player already in the discussion for best in the world that scored 35 on the road despite a shaky first half while dealing with playoff jitters. Anthony Davis can swing games by himself but the rest of his team will need to play well for them to have a fighting chance in any game, especially at Oracle. Injuries and impatient front office decisions have limited the top-end talent on the Pelicans but guys like Eric Gordon and Quincy Pondexter can hit open shots and punish the Warriors for being too focused on The Brow. While the Warriors surely knew it ahead of time, having that kind of fourth quarter but still getting the win serves as a useful reminder that the playoffs are a different animal where opponents will not pack it in and look towards their next game instead of battling with everything they have each time. I said Warriors in five before the series and feel the same way now but it should be a ton of fun along the way.