Published On: Sat, Apr 28th, 2018

With Curry or not, Davis-Holiday combo a threat to Warriors

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The New Orleans Pelicans made quick work of the Portland Trail Blazers and earned the lone sweep in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs by relying on the devastating, two-way play of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.

Up next for the Pelicans is the defending champion Golden State Warriors, a tall order even if All-Star guard Stephen Curry remains sidelined for all, or part, of the matchup. But New Orleans has a real shot to shock the West powerhouse with its devastating one-two punch.

Here we look at why Davis and Holiday could be the magic elixir for solving the Warriors.

Davis is a matchup nightmare

As the premier two-way frontcourt player in the NBA, Davis automatically creates problems for every opponent, including the undersized Warriors. Davis can post up, score from the perimeter, or beat defenders off the dribble, while using his length to protect the rim on defense.

After DeMarcus Cousins suffered a season-ending injury, Davis went on a tear, averaging 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, and two steals. Pairing Davis with 3-point threat Nikola Mirotic in the Pelicans’ frontcourt also increased the team’s pace from 101.6 to a league-high 104.5 possessions per 48 minutes.

Lineups MIN ORtg DRtg
Davis w/ Cousins 1094 108.4 104.2
Davis w/ Mirotic 576 112.4 101.7

Against the Blazers, Davis dominated big men Jusuf Nurkic and Ed Davis. Nurkic especially struggled, surrendering 64 points to Davis on 134 possessions when acting as his primary defender.

In this third-quarter possession from Game 4, Nurkic plays too far off of Davis while Holiday blows past Al-Farouq Aminu on the perimeter. Nurkic is slow to provide help and Holiday finds a gap between the defenders before feeding a pass to Davis.

If the Warriors play Zaza Pachulia, they would run into similar problems. JaVale McGee has the length to disrupt this play at the rim, in theory, but lacks the lateral quickness or defensive instincts to stop the play while it develops.

In three games against Golden State this season, Davis averaged 33 points and 14 boards on 59.7 percent shooting.

Davis’ primary defender on Golden State will be 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, who’s undersized but still an elite rim-protector. In the Pelicans’ April 7 win over the Warriors, Davis dominated, finishing with 34 points and 12 boards. However, Davis shot just 46.2 percent in 42 possessions with Green defending him.

In the third quarter of the aforementioned game, the Pelicans try to push the pace with E’Twaun Moore feeding Davis in the paint. Green, however, snuffs it out and forces Davis out of position with a tip.

The Pelicans immediately clear out, but Green sticks to Davis, who misses a heavily contested 15-foot fadeaway.

New Orleans forces cross-matches when they play uptempo, and Green will need to locate Davis on most possessions if Golden State hopes to slow him down. The Pelicans can counter Green’s effectiveness by spreading the floor and finding Davis in open space.

In the fourth quarter of the same game, New Orleans frees Davis by packing the weak side with shooters and clearing the strong side for a Rajon Rondo-Davis pick-and-roll. Rondo quickly finds Davis on the baseline, and the Pelicans big man finishes with an easy two points over the smaller Green.

On the defensive end, Davis is a savant when it comes to paint deterrence, finishing the year as the only player to average at least two blocks (2.6) and one steal (1.5) per game. Expect the Warriors to offset Davis’ presence with Green’s versatility at center and four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant at power forward for the majority of the series.

In this instance, the Warriors use a more traditional five-man lineup and run four shooters on the perimeter with Kevon Looney on the weak-side baseline. The Warriors have room to cut or run an isolation for Green, but Davis’ 7-foot-6 wingspan is demotivation for attacking the paint.

The Warriors’ spacing can drag Davis away from the rim, as they accomplish on this possession, but they are unable to take advantage thanks to a blocked shot by the Pelicans All-Star.

Holiday a star on both ends

For the first time since 2011, Holiday was available for 80-plus games and helped lead the Pelicans to their best record in a decade. With Rondo running the point, Holiday had a career year while playing largely off the ball, averaging a career-high 19 points as a secondary scorer.

The Pelicans’ enormous frontcourt made Holiday an afterthought at the start of the season, yet the pesky, 6-foot-4 combo-guard sported the highest net rating on the roster and New Orleans’ best on-court differential.

Player ORtg DRtg NetRtg On/Off Diff
Holiday 108.9 103.2 5.7 13.6
Davis 108.8 103.4 5.4 10.5
Cousins 108.0 106.2 1.8 -0.6

Holiday drew plenty of praise for his play in the Blazers series, suffocating Damian Lillard on defense while tirelessly attacking Portland on offense. He finished the series averaging 27.8 points and 6.5 assists, as Portland’s slow-footed frontcourt struggled to switch, allowing Holiday to expose its weak perimeter defenders.

In Game 4, the Pelicans run a pick-and-pop with Davis and Holiday. Nurkic hangs back so he doesn’t get burned at the rim, which leaves New Orleans with the option of a Davis 3-pointer or a Holiday drive. CJ McCollum loses Holiday on the curl, giving the UCLA product room to operate.

Holiday hits a leaner from the free-throw line with both defenders unsure of their rotation. Davis is also wide open, something the Warriors have to be aware of when he’s the screener.

In their Warriors-Pelicans meeting from April, Holiday finished with 25 points, six assists, and four steals, pestering the Curry-less Warriors on both ends.

Here, Holiday runs a pick-and-roll with Cheick Diallo and immediately splits the defense as Klay Thompson tries desperately to chase over the screen.

Holiday explodes to the basket for an easy two. If given an opening, Holiday will attack the rim or find a kick-out opportunity should the Warriors collapse on the drive.

David West can’t give Holiday that kind of space to operate, but that’s probably the last time Thompson takes that route with Holiday.

As for the defensive end, Holiday frustrated Lillard with hyperaggressive pressure all over the floor. Curry can expect similar treatment should he return to action against New Orleans.

In the first quarter of Game 4, Holiday tightly defends the All-Star from the logo, knowing the Blazers lack elite perimeter shooting outside of their backcourt duo.

Lillard attempts to beat Holiday off the dribble, but the Pelicans are hanging back for this exact case and trap the Portland guard on the baseline. A desperation kick to Wade Baldwin results in a contested layup.

Holiday can also guard bigger bodies. In that final regular-season meeting between the Pelicans and Warriors, Durant finished with a game-high 41 points, but Holiday came up with a late-game strip of the former MVP.

The Warriors’ 120.4 offensive rating with Curry on the floor led the league, but it dropped 14.3 points when he sat. Assuming Curry misses at least a few games, Holiday will draw Durant as his main defensive assignment. Despite the notable size difference, Holiday fared quite well against him during the regular season, surrendering just 23 points in 74 possessions when the two matched up.

New Orleans’ chances at an upset rest largely on Holiday’s presence on the perimeter and in passing lanes, and Davis’ rim protection and ability to switch on guards. There’s plenty of evidence to show they’re capable of pulling it off, especially with all the pressure on Golden State to live up to its billing.

(Photos courtesy: TNT, NBC Sports)
(Stats courtesy:

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