Pelicans strong throughout emphatic Game 3 win over Warriors, 119-100

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NEW ORLEANS – Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry spoke before Game 3 of his team’s playoff series against the Golden State Warriors about the need to “stay in a real state of equilibrium.”

That meant not relaxing even for a moment when things are going well and when they aren’t going well to do everything possible to stop a small Warriors run from becoming a big run. “They can easily break your will,” Gentry said.

He understood both scenarios. Gentry was the Warriors top assistant coach when they last came to the Smoothie King Center with a 2-0 playoff series lead in 2015. That Pelicans team featured Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday when they were three years younger and didn’t feature Nikola Mirotic or Rajon Rondo.

That Pelicans team took a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter only to see the Warriors outscore them, 39-19, in the fourth quarter and 15-11 in overtime to prevail on their way to a four-game sweep and ultimately the first of two NBA titles in three years.

This Pelicans team had been unable to stem Golden State runs in Game 1 as the defending champions rolled to a 123-101 victory. New Orleans did much better in Game 2, but still came up short in a 121-116 loss that put them in the position of having to win Friday night in the Smoothie King Center to have any realistic chance of winning this series.

They did what Gentry emphasized, taking the lead for good midway through the first quarter and spending the rest of the night building large margins, stemming Warriors runs and rebuilding their lead on their way to a 119-100 victory.

The Warriors cut the Pelicans’ 15-point second-quarter lead to four before the Pelicans rebuilt it to 13. The Warriors got within six points at halftime, but the Pelicans increased the lead to 15 less than five minutes into the third quarter.

“This is just a really, really hard team to play against,” Gentry said after the game. “You get a lead, they take it away and the thing that we kept trying to say to our guys is that you just got to remain consistent in what you’re doing and you’ve got to stay within the game plan, and I thought we did a really good job of that. We didn’t panic when they make those runs.”

The lead grew to 25 before the Warriors got within 15 after scoring the first basket of the fourth quarter. But less than four minutes later the lead was 24 before Golden State coach Steve Kerr said uncle and pulled his starters with 4:59 remaining, allowing them to get a little extra rest with Game 4 looming at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the same building that was rocking during the Pelicans first second-round playoff victory in 10 years.

“When you’re back at home and the crowd’s behind you, you play with a lot more confidence,” Davis said. “We hit shots and it opened up the floor.”

The Pelicans shot 50 percent from the floor (48-of-96) and 45.2 percent on 3-pointers (14-of-31). The Warriors shot 38 percent from the floor (35-of-92) and 29 percent on 3-pointers.

Davis had 33 points and 18 rebounds, Mirotic had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Rondo had a franchise playoff-record 21 assists and 10 rebounds. Jrue Holiday scored 21, former Warrior Ian Clark came off the bench to score a career playoff-high 18 points and E’Twaun Moore scored 13.

“Everybody did their job tonight,” Davis said.

Two-time MVP Steph Curry returned to the Warriors starting lineup after scoring 28 points in 27 minutes off the bench in Game 2 in his return after a 16-game absence due to a knee injury. He had 19 points.

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, Kevin Durant scored 22 and Draymond Green had 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Warriors.

When the Pelicans took an 83-63 lead late in the third quarter it was impossible not think of the blown 20-point lead in that other Game 3 against the Warriors three years earlier. But the crowd never seemed uncomfortable and the Pelicans never let Golden State get comfortable.

One thing on Gentry’s pre-game wish list that he didn’t get was an equalized opportunity at the foul line. In the two games in Oakland the Warriors made 46-of-59 free throws and the Pelicans made 16-of-20.

On Friday night, the Warriors still held the advantage, making 21-of-26 while New Orleans made 9-of-12.

But it mattered little because the Pelicans regained the form they showed in sweeping four games from Portland in the first round, extending a five-game winning streak at the end of the regular season that put them in the post-season.

Now the Pelicans have shown they can beat the champions in the playoffs, even beat them handily. Next, they’ll have to show they can beat them again and do so when the champions have been stung.

If they can maintain their equilibrium, we might have ourselves a very interesting series.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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