The New Orleans Pelicans needed to sweat out the franchise’s first playoff win since 2011 — the first under the Pelicans moniker they adopted before the 2013-14 season and the first of Anthony Davis’ career.
The last time New Orleans reached the postseason, in 2014-15, the Pelicans led the eventual champion Golden State Warriors by 20 points at the start of the third quarter of Game 3 only to lose the game in overtime and eventually get swept. Game 1 of New Orleans’ series with the Portland Trail Blazers looked as if it might be d茅j脿 vu.
Up 19 late in the third quarter, the Pelicans allowed the Blazers to cut the lead to just one point in the final minute with two opportunities to take the lead. New Orleans’ defense came up big both times, forcing a CJ McCollum turnover and a Damian Lillard miss. Then, after two Davis free throws, Jrue Holiday blocked Pat Connaughton’s layup to seal a 97-95 victory Saturday night at the Moda Center.
Ultimately, New Orleans got enough from its best Alex Avila Jersey players. Davis, who averaged 31.5 points in the series sweep by Golden State in 2014, had 35 points on 14-of-26 shooting this time around — along with 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. Holiday, given the primary defensive assignment on Lillard, also found enough energy to score 21 points at the other end. And Nikola Mirotic added a double-double of his own alongside Davis, knocking down four 3-pointers, blocking four shots and grabbing 11 rebounds.
The Minnesota Timberwolves kept their first playoff game in 14 years close, but Houston had too much from MVP front-runner James Harden and lob mate Clint Capela.
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Towns was held to fewer than eight points only twice in the regular season, when he averaged 21.3 points per game. He attempted nine or fewer field goals in 11 games, an alarming number for a 7-footer with Towns’ wide array of skills, capable of scoring as a post-up player, as a spot-up shooter and off the dribble.
Thibodeau especially emphasized getting out in transition when asked how Towns should be more active against a Rockets’ defensive scheme that makes him a focal point.
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You run the floor, Thibodeau said. Kick the ball out, repost, keep moving around, search it out, get to the offensive board. You’ve got to sprint around. You learn when teams are double-teaming you — that’s what you have to do. You have to make the right play. You also have to get to positions in which it’s difficult for them to double-team you. Transition’s a big part of that. You’ve got to run the floor.