WHERE: Oracle Arena in Oakland, California
WHEN: 9:30 PM CT
HOW TO LISTEN: 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
HOW TO WATCH: NBATV
For the Warriors perspective, visit Golden State Of Mind
After the debacle that was opening night in Memphis, the Grizzlies have rebounded nicely to the tune of two straight wins against lesser Eastern Conference opponents. Winning these games that they are "supposed to win" is key in a loaded Western Conference; few people (like me for example) really expected Memphis to defeat Cleveland last Wednesday. Any game against the NBA's elite (Cleveland, Houston, Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, San Antonio) is a game the Grizzlies can more than likely expect to go in to as underdogs.
Tonight is no exception, as the Bears of Beale Street head out west for the first of a five-game West Coast swing. It can be argued that this will be Memphis' toughest road trip of the season, and it starts with the elite of the elite in today's NBA, the Golden State Warriors. They have picked up where they left off last season, having won all three of their games so far this year by at least 14 points while scoring at least 111 in each contest. The most impressive part? They've done it against two Western Conference playoff teams from last season, the Houston Rockets (by 20 points 112-92) and New Orleans twice, their most recent win coming Saturday night in a 134-120 shootout where Stephen Curry scored 53 points.
Golden State can defend. They can score. They are the best the NBA has to offer, and the Grizzlies will most certainly have their hands full in Cali tonight. There are ways that Memphis can hang with Golden State however, and keep it a game heading in to the fourth quarter.
Three keys to the contest-
1. Tony Allen: Offensive Weapon
OK, offensive weapon may be a bit strong. But TA was famously exposed by the Warriors in last season's playoffs when he was defended by Center Andrew Bogut. Even if it was largely due to Golden State knowing Allen was injured (TA's hamstring was bothering him a good bit), it still decimated Memphis' chances to run an effective offense with him in and defend Curry and Klay Thompson both with him on the bench.
Since that series, meaning the first few games of this young season, teams have not fully adapted this strategy. They will gladly give Allen the outside shot if he so desires it, but there has not been a ton of the blatant disrespect for TA offensively that the Warriors did in the 2015 postseason. Allen's shot chart so far this year demonstrates that.
78.3% of his shots coming at and around the rim is extremely promising, as is his 7.7 attempts per game. Tony is being disciplined in his offensive game so far this year, understanding his shortcomings and playing to his strengths as a slasher and cutter. He is especially effective for Memphis so far as an offensive rebounder, grabbing 2.7 a game, good for second among wing players in the entire Association.
So much of that has to do with energy and desire, two traits that had so many clamoring for Allen to start in the first place. If Golden State chooses to repeat their strategy from last season (unlikely but still possible, more on that below), TA must make Golden State pay with that patented "All Heart, Grit and Grind" mentality, using his athleticism, tenacity, and quickness to get to the rim and win 50-50 battles for loose balls all night long.
Andrew Bogut is questionable at best for tonight's contest with a concussion, so if Festus Ezeli starts he would draw the Allen assignment if it were to happen. Regardless of which strategy the Warriors execute, the Grizzlies must find a way to make Allen offensively active enough that Golden State has to respect him on that end of the floor.
2. Jeff Green's Second Unit Winning the Battle
As good as Golden State's starters are, and they are damn good, their bench is a big factor in their dominance as well. Led by NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, the unit that also includes players like Ezeli when Bogut is healthy, former Grizzly Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingstone and Brandon Rush helps the Warriors not only keep leads when their vaunted starting unit is out, they also help expand upon those leads on most nights. Their ability to score off of dribble penetration, consistently make shots from beyond the arc and the mid-range, and switch defensively much like Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes of the starting unit makes all 48 minutes against the defending NBA champions hell for opponents.
This is where Memphis' favorite scapegoat comes in to play. Jeff Green has taken to his "new" role coming off the bench nicely, helping the Grizzlies win both of their last contests while efficiently scoring the basketball and facilitating the Grizzlies' offense. He made five of six shots against the Pacers, including big ones in the fourth quarter, and went to the free throw line ten times against Brooklyn, converting eight of those opportunities. If Head Coach Dave Joerger opts for a true second unit look tonight of Beno Udrih, Matt Barnes, Brandan Wright, JaMychal Green and Jeff it will be up to "Ghetty" Jeff Green to rise to his level of competition and continue to have success against one of the best bench units in the NBA.
Jeff's performance in the playoffs last season against these Warriors left a lot to be desired. Hopefully the Grizzlies remind him of that and he plays with a chip on his shoulder tonight.
3. Conley vs. Curry: Make it a Draw
For one glorious night, in Game Two of the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals, you could argue Mike Conley was the best Point Guard in the NBA...or at the very least the toughest. He had a performance for the ages, rocking his mask for the first time to protect his surgically repaired face to the tune of 8-12 from the field overall and 3-6 from three-point land. Curry, meanwhile, struggled in that contest, shooting 2-11 from beyond the arc and 7-19 overall. Mike outplayed the NBA's MVP on that night in May, giving the Grizzlies and their fans hope that an upset was possible.
Curry, of course, woke up around Game Four of the series and extinguished any hope that Memphis had of getting past the eventual NBA champs. Curry has carried on with his dominance early this season, averaging a staggering 39.3 points per game after his 53-point explosion this past weekend while shooting 48.6% from three and 58.8% from the field overall. His shot chart is terrifying-
Curry is also averaging 7.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.3 steals a game so far this season, along with a 95.5% free throw conversion percentage on 7 attempts a game. Small sample sizes, to be sure, but to paraphrase Draymond Green, this is Steph Curry's league right now. In order for Memphis to compete with the Warriors now and in the future Mike Conley must shine, not reaching the gaudy numbers of Curry but limiting him offensively as much as he can while making him work on defense. Running through screens and aggressive helping on defense must be a priority, because if Steph is given an inch he is capable of taking (and making) any shot he takes. If the Warriors attempt to hide Curry defensively (perhaps on Allen) whoever he is defending has to force him to exert energy on both ends of the court.
That, and physicality on the defensive end, are the only ways to try to consistently slow down Steph. Double-team him? He will find the open man. Press him? He is arguably the best ball handler in the NBA. He truly is the class of the Association right now, and the Grizzlies have quite the task ahead of them with regard to limiting his effectiveness.
As I said in the Friday Three this past week, a 2-3 record on this road trip would be a win in my book. Playing at Oracle is quite the challenge in and of itself, and it is likely that those fans (and the team they support) remember well the test that the Grizzlies gave them in the postseason. They will hope to make a statement that Memphis is not only not as good as Golden State, but they are not in the same stratosphere. A win tonight for Memphis is not likely.
If the Grizzlies truly want to see where they measure up in terms of those tiers of contenders, however, they must compete. This cannot morph in to a repeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers game on opening night; Memphis will see Golden State again in nine days at the FedExForum, and if they can hang in this contest it will build confidence for that meeting at home where perhaps the Grizzlies can even up the season series.
Can Memphis win tonight? Sure. Will they compete? If they execute and start fast, absolutely. But Golden State is the best team in the NBA for a reason, and they will likely have far too much offensive firepower for Memphis to survive this first encounter. There will be others.
Golden State 107, Memphis 97
|2015-16 NBA Season
|Oracle Arena in Oakland, California|
9:30 PM CT
92.9 ESPN Memphis/NBA TV
|Mike Conley||PG||Stephen Curry|
|Courtney Lee||SG||Klay Thompson|
|Zach Randolph||PF||Draymond Green|
|Marc Gasol||C||Festus Ezeli|