OAKLAND -- For one team, the Western Conference semifinals were a big-time measuring stick. For another, it was nothing more than a pit stop on a path to something much larger.
The New Orleans Pelicans are trying to build something. Their first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers is a starting point and the subsequent experience they picked up in round two is extremely valuable.
Their opponent has been to the top of the mountain, earning rings in two of the last three seasons. The Golden State Warriors aren’t playing for experience points, they are looking to cement their legacy as an NBA dynasty.
New Orleans came into Game 5 trailing 3-1 in the series. They had impressed with their grit and ability to make Golden State work on both ends of the court. They were hanging close to the high-powered Warriors through the intermission, but it’s tough to keep the World Champs under wraps for a full 48 minutes.
The Warriors stumbled to end the first half, giving away a 10-point lead in the final four minutes. Golden State bounced back to take a 59-56 halftime lead, which gave coach Steve Kerr the talking points he needed.
“The main message at halftime was, we’re doing great, we just had a couple of errors and you have to remind guys that, you know, the ball is everything,” Steve Kerr said. “A couple of turnovers can change the entire tone of a game.”
Golden State responded to the message and dropped the hammer on New Orleans coming out of the break. In the blink of an eye, the game and series were over.
“We had some bad possessions and then we missed some shots, and so all of the sudden, it’s 10-0 and you know how that goes,” Alvin Gentry said following the loss.
Fueled by the hot shooting of Stephen Curry, the Warriors outscored the Pelicans 36-19 in the third to take a commanding 20-point lead heading into the final frame.
Still working his way back into game shape after a missing more than five weeks of action, Curry dropped in 13 of his team-high 28 points in the quarter.
“Steph is starting to, I think, get his wind back and his legs back and they are just going to become better,” Gentry added.
Draymond Green shook off a slow start to post nine points in the quarter and Kevin Durant added eight of his 24 in a wild 12 minutes of up and down basketball.
“We generated good shots early and they didn’t go in, and we were very confident that if we continue to get those looks, they will go in at the right time and that’s what happened in the third,” Durant said.
Golden State let off the gas in the fourth quarter, allowing New Orleans to climb within striking distance. But in the end, the advantage coming out of quarter No. 3 was way too much to overcome.
With the win, the Warriors advanced to the Western Conference Finals for a fourth straight season. They’ll face a Houston Rockets team that finished off an injury-riddled Utah Jazz team earlier Wednesday evening.