Fielding the Opposition: Will Warriors give Memphis the Blues?
By: Adam Lauridsen
There’s history between the Warriors and the Grizzlies. Not the type of history that the Warriors or Grizzlies have with the Clippers — a shared loathing — but the type of history that helps explain where a franchise came from and where it’s going. Jerry West, an architect of the Grizzlies’ rise to power, also was instrumental in the Warriors’ ascendance. The Grizzlies tormented the Warriors in almost Spurs-like fashion for years. They broke the Warriors’ longest winning streak last year, and pushed them harder than any opponent as the Warriors fought their way to a championship. There’s a mutual respect between players — Stephen Curry and Mike Conley, Draymond Green and Zach Randolph, Andrew Bogut and Marc Gasol — that makes these match-ups so hard-fought and compelling.
But since the Warriors made those fateful adjustments in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the relationship between the teams has been a lopsided one. The Warriors have won the last 4 meetings, including a 50-point blowout in the season’s first week. No one — not even the most bullish Warriors homer — thinks Golden State is 50 points better than Memphis, but the blowout came from a fundamental shift in what had been a near stalemate of styles. Previously, the Grizzlies’ bigs would punish the Warriors inside, and the Warriors’ smalls would punish the Grizzlies outside. But the last meeting, the Warriors owned both the paint and the perimeter. Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli smothered Gasol and Randolph whenever they got the ball in the post, completely short-circuiting Memphis’ offense and generating the turnovers on which the Warriors’ offense thrives.
The first challenge for the Grizzlies on Wednesday will be to reestablish control of the paint. Andrew Bogut is back for the Warriors, so they’ll have additional depth in the middle, but Memphis needs to win the 4 and 5 match-ups to have a shot at breaking the Warriors’ 8-game win streak. If the game comes down to a battle between the Warriors’ shooters and Memphis’ bigs, the Grizzlies may benefit from Klay Thompson’s inconsistent play (he’s been struggling with a bad back) and could have some luck slowing down Curry (as the Pistons did successfully on Monday). Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala are wild-cards — they’ve been keys to recent Warriors wins, but also have been inconsistent on offense.
The Warriors will be expecting the Grizzlies’ to try to send a message following the previous blow-out and this week’s crushing loss to the Clippers. It will be a good test for the Warriors, who have shown wavering focus against a series of lesser opponents over the past few games. For Memphis, the game is a chance to play spoiler, by breaking the Warriors’ season-opening win streak, and to re-start on a more positive note what has been a frustrating season so far. Whatever the outcome, I expect a quality basketball game. In a league with plenty of floppers, pretenders and prima donnas, there’s a purity to the way the Grizzlies and Warriors play their different styles — unselfish ball movement, lock-down defense, endless hustle — that shines through regardless of the outcome of the game.
[Side note: I had the pleasure of catching a Warriors/Grizzlies playoff game in the crowd at the Fed Ex Forum last spring. The Memphis fans, more than any others I’ve encountered in the NBA, remind me of the crowds I love in Oakland. They were passionate and knowledgeable, loud and loyal. I wish them nothing but success — except for the nights the Warriors are in town.]
Adam Lauridsen covers the Warriors at Fast Break, Golden State Warriors Fan Blog
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