A decade ago, the New Orleans Hornets beat the Dallas Mavericks and advanced to the Western Conference Semi’s losing in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs. 23 year old Chris Paul, a baby in the league, led the way during that playoff run, averaging 24 points and 11 assists. His partner in crime was David West who added 21 points and 8 rebounds. Peja Stojakovic rounded out the big three.
A decade later, Paul has never been to the Western Conference Finals but West and Peja got rings once they left NOLA. A decade later, New Orleans has never had a 50 win season as they did in 2008 with Paul. Six times since 2008, the Pelicans won less than 40 games with the lowest of the low being the 21 games they won in the 2011-12 season, the year Paul was traded. Since Paul was traded, the Pelicans averaged 34 wins.
After losing in the second round in 2008 against a tougher and more experienced Spurs team, the Scott coached Hornets anticipated more second rounds to come and possible Western Conference Finals. It made sense. They had done the hard part and drafted a soon to be NBA star in Paul.
But the next year, they lost in the first round to a Carmelo Anthony Nuggets team. In 2009-10, Paul was injured. Then a first round, six game loss to the Lakers in 2011. Afterwards, Paul made it known post-NBA lockout he wanted out. It left the Hornets in a playoff vacuum. They only made it to the playoffs once after Paul’s exit and then they were swept by the eventual champion Warriors in 2015. That’s it. Until now.
It’s been a tough seven years in New Orleans after Chris divorced the team. His departure led the way for Anthony Davis and the number one pick in 2012. But there has been a lot of famine and not enough feast, particularly with Davis’ multitude of injuries.
Usually you don’t celebrate a first round beatdown. But the Pelicans have accomplished something. They finally have gotten the Chris Paul curse off their back and don’t have to hear about him and his era and what a team with him on it did. The New Orleans Hornets can be retired. The New Orleans Pelicans can be applauded. They took a sucker punch to the face when DeMarcus Cousins ripped his Achilles. But they kept on going. No heads down. No feeling sorry. No sackcloth and ashes. Just compete. ABC. Always. Be. Competing.
On paper, the Pels were always going to be a tough matchup for the Blazers. They have too much size and talent on the inside. Jrue Holiday is bigger and more physical than Damian Lillard, and Rondo makes sure the pace of the game is flowing to the appropriate temperature. Plus his grittiness is playoff appropriate.
With Davis, Holiday and Rondo taking ownership of the team, the role players don’t have any pressure on them. It really was a perfect storm that kept building and building and now it is all about the Pelicans volcano.
They get to test their sudden efficacy against the best. The Blazers were incomplete, like a car with two good tires and a bunch of the wheels nearly flat. Not so for the Warriors. If the Pels have a top-5 player in Anthony Davis, then the Warriors have two top-5 players in Kevin Durant and Steph Curry who have accomplished post-regular season titles. The Warriors have more talent than the Blazers, more depth, more experience, more shooting and more fight. In the first round, the Pels fought harder than their opponent. They are going to need that in spades because the Warriors keep coming at you with their offense and scoring.
On paper, the matchup against the Warriors seems decent. Both have three point shooting. Both have mutiple players who can get you 40 but to be fair, Holiday doing it only once in his career isn’t a great sample size. Where the Warriors excel is dribbling and scoring off the bounce, passing to get the elite shot, making buckets in bunches, and their quick defensive rotations. They trust each other like players who have been together a long time must do if they want to keep on winnning. The Warriors rarely get beat and excel at team help.
Three years after sweeping the Pelicans (after that notorious catastrophe in game three and the Pels unable to finish off a 25 point lead) no one in the league has yet to match the Warriors in scoring or passing. Alvin Gentry, the former Warriors assistant, is going to have his hands full with a scheme to slow them down and to make sure the Pels don’t turn the ball over or have lulls where they are not making shots. Against the Warriors, you must score.
But today isn’t about the Warriors who haven’t eliminated the Spurs yet. It’s about the Pels finally creating a winning culture with their superstar Davis. It’s about the team and front office, by extension, making sure Davis is a staple in New Orleans for years to come by supporting him with players that compete and want to win.
Jrue Holiday has silenced all his haters who laughed at his 2017-18 payday of $25 million when he couldn’t even make the All-Star team. Holiday still isn’t in the top-5 point guard discussion with Steph, Kyrie, Westbrook, Lillard and Paul ahead of him. He has to play tough and confident during 82 games and in the playoffs to dethrone one of the elite point guards. But Holiday is giving the Pels hope that he can elevate his $131 million dollar game on both ends while remaining consistent. He can be that backcourt star the Pels are thirsty for.
It’s good to be New Orleans. Let’s have some jambalaya or shrimp etouffee or crawfish while waiting for round two. It’s good to be the Pelicans. How good? We’ll see in about two weeks. But no longer does Chris Paul matter. It’s Anthony Davis 24-7 and another team to upset. If the Pelicans make it to the Western Conference Finals by beating the champion Warriors it will be full circle. More than likely, they will face their former beloved son, Chris Paul.