Stephen Curry carried the Golden State Warriors to a huge lead, waving his arms and flexing his muscles with one acrobatic shot after another.
Every time the New Orleans Pelicans pulled closer, Curry came back even better.
Curry scored 34 points with an MVP-worthy performance, and the Warriors went up big before holding off the Pelicans 106-99 in their playoff opener Saturday.
“I was locked in and focused the whole night,” Curry said. “In those situations, you want to get the crowd back into it. There’s a weird kind of tension, especially in the second half when they made a couple runs. But in the playoffs, you have to expect anything. And whenever you’re on the floor, just try to make an impact.”
Klay Thompson added 21 points, and Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut dominated down low as the Warriors looked every bit like the NBA’s top seed — at least for three quarters. They smothered Anthony Davis and the Pelicans early on with the league’s best defense, thrilling a gold shirt-wearing sellout crowd of 19,596 that rocked and roared most of the afternoon.
The Warriors led by 15 after the first quarter, 18 at the half and 25 late in the third. The Pelicans pulled within four in the final minute behind Davis, who scored 20 of his 35 points in the final quarter, to make the contest seem closer than it really was.
“It’s good for us to have to deal with the feeling in the building, especially as a favorite, when a team starts to come back,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You have to feel that. That’s all part of it.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night in Oakland, where the Warriors have won 19 straight.
Davis did his best to bring the Pelicans back, shooting 13-of-23 from the floor and grabbing seven rebounds in his playoff debut. Quincy Pondexter scored 20 points and Eric Gordon added 16 for the Pelicans, who shot 42.2% and looked overwhelmed by the moment until the final quarter.
“I think the whole team was nervous,” Davis said. “This is our first time as a unit in the playoffs, and our pace was good. We were moving fast, but our minds were moving fast as well.”
It didn’t help the Pelicans that point guard Tyreke Evans left in the first half with a left knee injury. Coach Monty Williams said Evans will have an MRI exam and his status for the rest of the series is unclear.
The other part of the Pelicans’ problems were caused by Golden State’s defensive stoppers, Green and Bogut, who came up big on both ends. Green finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Bogut had 12 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.
It was the same way the Warriors won a franchise-record 67 games this season, going a league-best 39-2 at home. And just like their resume predicted, they worked over the Pelicans with all the pomp and potency of a playoff powerhouse at the start.
Fans chanted “War-ri-ors!” during warm-ups, an alley-oop from Thompson to Bogut got them roaring more, and then came Curry crashing through the lane for layups, sending them into a chorus of “M-V-P!” for the man many believe will take home the NBA’s most coveted individual award.
Curry put Golden State up 28-13 after the first quarter. In the final seconds of the second quarter, Curry raced up court and converted a high-arching, left-handed reverse layup, drawing a foul on Davis to start a three-point play and pulling his arms toward his shoulders in celebration.
“It was a fun little play,” Curry said.
The basket put the Warriors up 59-41 at the half, and they led 82-57 late in the third quarter. Despite Davis’ late push, it was too much for New Orleans to overcome.
Curry finished 13-of-25 shooting, though he was just 4-of-13 from 3-point range. He also had five assists and four rebounds.
“That’s what he does,” Kerr said. “Steph’s our engine. Everything we do starts with him.”
TIP-INS: Pelicans — Pondexter was called for a technical foul in the second quarter for shoving Green in the face after the two got tangled up under the basket. … Davis’ 35 points tied for the fifth most in a playoff debut in the last 40 years.
Warriors — The fewest points the Warriors had allowed in the first quarter of a playoff game previously was 17 against Dallas in 2007. … Forward David Lee, a two-time All-Star reduced to a reserve role this season, sat out with a strained lower back.
BENCH CONCERNS: The biggest concern for Golden State was its deep bench not holding leads. Shaun Livingston particularly struggled, with the Warriors getting outscored by 21 points with him on the floor. Kerr attributed the problem to a lack of ball movement and not one player.
HOLIDAY NEEDED: Jrue Holiday, who missed 41 games with a stress reaction in his right leg before returning in the final week of the regular season, may be needed more if Evans is out. Holiday had five points and five assists in 21 minutes.