OAKLAND — Less than two minutes into the third quarter, after Kevin Durant knocked down a 22-foot step back with Nikola Mirotic in his face, New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry took a timeout — his second of the second half.
The former Golden State Warriors assistant was desperately trying to stem one of those famous third-quarter rallies. Durant’s basket had made it 10-0 out of the break.
The strategy didn’t work.
There was no stopping the deluge or the Warriors who barreled to the destination the team was always supposed to reach — a Western Conference Finals showdown with the Houston Rockets — after dispatching the Pelicans, 113-104 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Gentry’s third timeout came roughly a minute-and-a-half later after Stephen Curry buried a 25-footer right in front of the Pelicans’ bench. The Warriors would wind up out-scoring the Pelicans 39-16 in the third quarter.
The two-time MVP poured in 13 of his 28 points during Golden State’s trademark third-quarter blitz, punctuating the onslaught with a 30-footer that only he’d take — much less make — with just under seven minutes left in the quarter.
Curry had a simple explanation for his electric third: “I was just out there playing basketball, having fun,” he said.
Head coach Steve Kerr read more into the vintage performance, which came in the wake of Curry feeling his way back from a five-week layoff due to a sprained MCL.
“If he played 37 minutes in a playoff game, then I think he’s okay,” Kerr explained. “And now we’ve got about five days until our next game. So, time to recover and continue his work … It just feels like he’s back now.”
In the series-clinching win, the triumvirate of Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 75 points.
Amid the opening half, it was Thompson who fueled the Warriors. After shooting 5-for-13 from the field and 1-for-6 from distance in Sunday’s Game 3 win, Thompson was unstoppable, accounting for 12 of the team’s 17 points midway through the first quarter, splashing five of six field goals and hitting two of three attempts from beyond the arc. Thompson scored 19 of the first 37, but then contributed four points the rest of the way.
As has been the habit throughout the year, the Warriors got complacent late, surrendering an 18-2 Pelicans run in the fourth quarter. With 1:43 to go and the Pelicans having whittled the score to 107-100, Draymond Green effectively hit the dagger, sinking an 18-foot fadeaway.
After the win, Durant — who had 24 points while connecting on 10-of-18 field goals — addressed the showing of Curry, his MVP colleague. Durant dismissed the idea that Curry had ever left
“He always was back,” Durant said. “It doesn’t matter if he was on the sidelines with a knee injury. He was always Steph. For me, what my opinion was is that coach was really trying to monitor his minutes and help him get back.”
Durant said he understood why Kerr played it slow with Curry but was glad he allowed the Splash Brother to go full bore with Houston on the horizon.
“I think coach did a great job of giving him a little bit here and there,” Durant said. “Tonight, really just letting him go. And you see, when you let the dog off the leash what happens.”
The Western Conference Finals begin Monday at 6 p.m. in Houston.
“We’re going to need him to continue to be aggressive,” Durant said. “And we’ll live with anything after that.”