OAKLAND – With easy shots hard to come by and passes being more surprisingly unreliable, the No. 1 seed Warriors were deep in the fourth quarter feeling the hot breath of the eighth-seed New Orleans Pelicans.
So they turned to their security device, which so rarely fails them and certainly did not in Game 2 of this first-round playoff series.
The Warriors cranked up the defense, higher and higher, completely suffocating New Orleans over the final minutes of what became a 97-87 victory before an appreciative and relieved sellout crowd Monday night at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors exhaled, knowing they can play better but still finding enough to go up 2-0 on the best-of-seven series.
"It gives us confidence," said Klay Thompson, who scored 14 of the team's 26 fourth-quarter points. "But we know we're not going to shoot a high percentage every night. We know we’re going to have turnovers or lapses.
"But it's the defense that won us the game."
The Warriors held the Pelicans to 16 points in the fourth quarter, one point over the final 4:43. Holding an 88-86 lead with the crowd holding its collective breath, the Warriors finished on a 9-1 run by holding New Orleans to 0-for-5 shooting and two turnovers over the final 4:04.
New Orleans missed 26 of 35 shots in the second half, and 12 of their 16 attempts in the fourth quarter. Anthony Davis scored six points in the quarter, all on free throws.
"It was fantastic," coach Steve Kerr said. "I mean, the energy that we were able to expend and limit what they could do. They're a handful. We know that. Between Davis and their 3-point shooters and the penetration from (Tyreke) Evans, you've got to cover a lot of floor and try to contain Davis with other people because he's too good to guard one-on-one.
"It's a lot to ask, but we feel like the identity of our team is defense and our versatility at that end."
Defense was a Warriors hallmark all season, even if so many were mesmerized by Curry's offensive pyrotechnics. Center Andrew Bogut and forward Draymond Green both are legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Iguodala plays fabulous defense, and Curry has added that component to his game.
So often when games were close in the regular season, the Warriors resorted to blitzing opponents and taking control of the game.
Now that the playoffs have arrived, the question is whether that formula can still be successfully applied. It was on Monday night.
"Whether we were at home or on the road, we knew we were going to get everybody's best shot," Curry said. "But you expect that in the playoffs. It's win or go home. So the grind-it-out kind of feel that these games have, you expect it's going to be the exact same thing – if not tougher – in New Orleans."
If these first two games are any indication, Curry's assessment is spot on. The Pelicans showed well for a team that got into the playoffs on the last night of the season. And there's every reason to believe they'll fight every minute of every game.
Thompson rebounded well from Game 1, not only with his scoring but also with his accuracy. He was 11-of-17 from the floor, 8-of-9 inside the arc. After committing five turnovers in Game 1, he committed zero in Game 2.
Green was remarkable, making Davis earn everything and forcing him into some bad shots. Green's line – 14 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks – merely hint at his effectiveness.
Leandro Barbosa came off the bench and provided a boost of energy to a team that was sagging in the second quarter. Playing six minutes in the quarter, he scored eight of his 12 points.
The bench as a whole recovered from a poor Game 1, outscoring New Orleans reserves 25-17.
Curry had six assists and five turnovers, nowhere near the desired ratio.
Harrison Barnes was quieter than that Warriors would like: five points, three assists and two rebounds in 22 minutes.
The Pelicans are giving the Warriors all they could possibly want and then some. Davis is a load, but the greater concern is Eric Gordon draining treys and Tyreke Evans barreling to the rim.
Those issues went away late, when the Warriors sent out the dogs. The Warriors now know they can play that card, if needed. They also know they can play better on offense. Moreover, they know they will.