So it has begun. Yesterday, April 14, was the day that the 2017-18 NBA playoffs began. For most of the day, the games went according to script. Though without their face-of-the-franchise G Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors easily demolished the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs. The Washington Wizards played the Toronto Raptors close, but the all-around performances across the Raptors roster ensured that the game one curse was lifted. Additionally, the Philadelphia 76ers bludgeoned the Miami Heat in an all-around team performance at home.
There was one game that went less according to plan however. The nightcap of the first day of the NBA playoffs was a meeting between the visiting New Orleans Pelicans and the hosting Portland Trailblazers. In a tight affair, the Pelicans emerged the victors, staving off a late Blazers comeback that left the final score 97-95.
This was something a tad bit unexpected. While the Houston Rockets and the aforementioned Warriors were a tier above all others as the first and second seeded teams in the west, the third seed Trailblazers were able to keep themselves out of the scrum that the rest of the west, including the Pelicans, found themselves in just to make the playoffs at all. The Pelicans victory therefore begs the question of why. Why were the Pelicans able to come in and beat the Blazers on their home floor. While there were a multitude of causes, especially the poor shooting of Blazers guards Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum, there are three standouts on the Pelican side of things.
First and foremost, G Rajon Rondo has reminded everyone that “Playoff Rondo” is very real, and a nightmare for any opposing team. The University of Kentucky product put up prime Rondo numbers, with a 6/8/17 line with a steal on the side. Outside of the numbers, Rondo displayed leadership with his younger teammates, and a calm collected nature even as things got close at the end of the game. Both through his stats and leadership, Rondo was a definite catalyst in this win.
Additionally, I would be doing a poor job if I did not mention the dominance of F Anthony Davis. In short, he was a force of nature. While it was as usual for the Illinois native, his 35/14/1 performance was mightily impressive, especially when paired with his two steals and four blocks. Heck, those points even came on gaudy shooting, a sharp 53.8 FG%. Nothing else needs to be said, Davis is an unmitigated beast.
Finally, any talk of Pelican success would be incomplete without mentioning the brilliant performance of G Jrue Holiday. The former 76er had a nice game on offense, scoring 21 points efficiently, shooting 50% from the field. It was his defense, however, that really made the difference. As mentioned, Both of Portland’s standout guards struggled. While Rondo and the Pelicans other guards are solid defenders, Holiday is a shoo-in for an All-Defensive team. Additionally, the California native had the block, and play of the night, as per the NBA’s twitter:
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2018
So what now? Even with the stellar defense of Holiday and Davis, and solid defense by F Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans are almost assuredly not going to get poor performances out of Lillard and McCollum again. If the Pels are going to succeed in this series going forward, they are going to need to match their performance in game one. Luckily, the Pelicans were not at peak performance last night, as F E’Twaun Moore and F Solomon Hill will likely have more impactful performances going forward. While the path will not be easy, The Pelicans have taken the first step towards victory. Let us hope that they keep walking in the right direction Tuesday.