#1 – Golden State Warriors
For perhaps the first time this season, there may be some reason to worry in Golden State. On Saturday, the Warriors were outplayed over the full course of a game for the second consecutive time, something that certainly hasn’t happened this year to this point. But perhaps more importantly, they were taken out of their comfort zone once again in Game 3 and forced to alter their preferred outcomes far more than anyone on the roster is accustomed to this season.
Proclamations about the added value of “playoff experience” are often overdone, but it’s possible we’re seeing one of the tangential effects of a dominant regular-season team that simply wasn’t forced to adjust to adversity often, if at all. The Warriors became somewhat used to controlling the majority of their games, and their explosive nature kept them from falling into negative habits when they did find themselves in a hole. But against a more disciplined and honed-in Memphis opponent who knows all too well the damaging effects a more focused defensive attack, much of this security is gone. The Warriors stagnated much more frequently defensively, and appeared to exhibit bits of frustration not normally seen from their group. A late-game comeback wasn’t soon enough for them to find their gear.
As strange as it sounds, Golden State needs more from its best player. Stephen Curry went just 3-9 on his uncontested field-goals on the night and 8-21 overall, looking flummoxed for a second straight contest by the sharp and calculated pressure the Grizzlies are bringing. Memphis is forcing the game out of Curry’s hands, and he’s in turn forcing his own game. Steve Kerr and the rest of his squad need to regroup, find the holes in their opposition’s approach, and make some adjustments to get back on track in a series they were huge favorites in.
#5 – Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis is playing their best ball of the season at the perfect time, in both vital areas: physically and especially mentally. The way the Grizzlies have stuck to a difficult, taxing game plan that puts pressure both on their bodies and their minds is truly impressive, and major kudos to Dave Joerger for his work here even if they don’t win another game.
The main players up front were at work again, particularly Zach Randolph, who once again dominated down low to both generate much-needed offense and force several vital pieces into foul trouble on the other side of the ball. It wasn’t all Z-Bo, of course, but Andrew Bogut (again), Draymond Green (again), Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes all had at least four personal fouls in Game 3 as Memphis came straight at them and forced the game to their preferred physical style.
But it was the bit pieces who really made the difference. Courtney Lee was spectacular defensively, primarily against Curry. Tony Allen was his usual crazy defensive self. Jeff Green, much-maligned in this postseason and recent months in general, was a ridiculous plus-23 in just under 26 minutes, showing the versatile defensive presence he can be when locked in. Kosta Koufos played just over 15 minutes, but he was more than solid in this time as well. It’s not a stretch at all to say that the Grizzlies’ bench outplayed their counterparts, a huge boon if it can continue given the depth the Warriors have boasted all year.
Whether they can stick to the script and remain disciplined and focused enough to execute their game plan remains to be seen, but the evidence is mounting that this series is being played on Memphis’ terms. We’ll see if it’s sustainable.
Who Wins Game 4?
Why not? Let’s keep the Cinderella story going. The Grizzlies sneak out a nail-biter and take a 3-1 lead back to Golden State.
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