Quincy Pondexter wants to take off his uniform jersey but can barely raise his right arm. Nor can Pondexter remove his high tops or socks. He tries, but the arm won’t cooperate. He makes eye contact with a locker room attendant, who comes over for the assist.
The TV cameras and microphones waiting to hear from the Pelicans shooting guard following Monday night’s Game 2 loss to the Warriors at Oracle Arena will have to wait until he finishes dressing.
It takes a few minutes for Pondexter, using mainly his left arm, to pull a gray sweatshirt over his head and fasten all the buttons of the white, long-sleeved shirt he’s wearing underneath. And when that’s done, the right arm gets wrapped in ice for the trip back to the team hotel.
“Just got it caught in a screen,” the former Memorial High star said when asked about the appendage. “No big deal.”
Never miss a local story.
Oh, but it kind of is. Pondexter needs that right arm to launch 3-pointers — his primary role in the Pelicans’ offense — and to keep in the face of his main defensive assignment: Warriors superstar Stephen Curry.
Pondexter refuses to use the arm, even though he can barely lift it minutes after the game, as an excuse for an off night. After scoring 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting during Saturday’s series opener, his Game 2 output diminished to three points while going 1 of 8 from the field.
“I just couldn’t get it going,” Pondexter said, looking none too pleased. “I played like (crap), and I’m the reason why we lost. It sucks.”
Regardless of that self-appraisal, Pondexter is not the reason the Pelicans are down 2-0 to heavily favored Golden State. But it’s certainly true they need the Fresno native to re-discover his shooting stroke when the series resumes tonight.
Since the Jan. 12 trade that sent Pondexter from Memphis to New Orleans, he emerged as a key contributor on a Pelicans team making its first playoff appearance since 2010-11.
In 30 games with the Grizzlies, Pondexter averaged 4.5 points on 35.6% shooting while playing an average of 18 minutes. In 45 games with the Pelicans, his scoring average doubled to 9.0 points on 44.9% shooting while playing 27.8 minutes.
Pondexter’s post-trade improvement from 3-point range was astounding. He went from shooting 23.3% from behind the arc for Memphis to 43.3% for New Orleans, and no player in the NBA (Curry included) shot a higher percentage on 3s during the season’s final month.
How did he do it?
“My coaches in Memphis hated me, and the coaches (in New Orleans) love me,” Pondexter said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Hang on. That’s the reason? Supportive coaching?
“It’s crazy when someone doesn’t want you how you play compared to how you play when someone wants you,” he replied.
That new someone is Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who values the 27-year-old for his shooting, defense and experience. This is Pondexter’s fourth trip to the playoffs, having reached the 2012-13 Western Conference finals with the Grizzlies.
“He’s played in big games in Memphis and guarded smaller guys, so he understands the guys he has to guard, from Steph to Klay (Thompson) to Harrison (Barnes),” Williams said. “He has his hands full the whole time he is on the floor”
Defensively, Pondexter’s job is containing Curry. Specifically, that means making sure the Warriors’ sharpshooter doesn’t get open looks from the perimeter. To accomplish this, Pondexter uses his 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame to badger the smaller, quicker MVP candidate. Curry counters by using a succession of screens to create open space.
It’s during one of these Curry chases that Pondexter gets his arm caught in a screen set by Warriors forward Draymond Green. He and Green had a little dust-up in Game 1 that resulted in a technical on Pondexter — and prompted an angry reaction from Green’s mom on Twitter.
“I’m here for the little things — whatever the team needs me to do,” Pondexter said. “If I’ve got to guard the center or guard Steph Curry, I’m going to do it. Every single time.”
Once the playoffs are over — and he’s hoping that’s not for weeks — Pondexter plans to return to Fresno and resume his normal slate of charitable events and community appearances.
Between free basketball camps, visits to Valley Children’s Hospital and turkey donations at Thanksgiving, few (if any) professional athletes from the region can match Pondexter when it comes to giving back.
“I’m looking forward to getting home,” he said. “Put my bid in to run for mayor one of these days.”
For the first time since needing help to change out of his uniform, Pondexter smiles. But only for a moment. The playoffs are serious business.