It all comes down to this.
Game 6 at the Forum. It's do or die now for the Memphis Grizzlies. Backed into the tightest corner, they've been beaten, bruised, and injured. Mike Conley has been dealing with a broken face and hurt foot, and Tony Allen is still dealing with a lingering hamstring injury. The past two games, the Grizzlies have appeared as a shadow of their grit n' grind selves, and the hopes of beating the Warriors have been diminished greatly.
One week ago today, Grizz Nation was full of hope and excitement. Now, dread and a blind sort of hope fills everyone's hearts. We see the billboards around the city still. They read "Believe Memphis," as they have all postseason, but the phrase feels harder to cling to than it did a week ago. There's still a Game 6 Friday night, however. If Memphis wins, they force a Game 7. The Grizzlies play have played their best in the underdog role, it seems, and they find themselves in that role again as they play for their playoff lives tonight.
But how can they force a Game 7? They need to follow a few important points:
Keys To Victory
1. Convert In The Paint
The Grizzlies shot only 39.8% from the field on Wednesday, and they shot even worse in the paint. The Grizzlies have had a lot of trouble converting in the lane the past couple of games, whether they're missed lay-ups or missed bunnies. If Memphis wants to extend the series tonight, they must convert the shots that they usually make in the paint. Marc has had particular trouble with shots he normally makes around the basket and in general. Tony Allen is great at cutting underneath the basket and getting some easy points, so getting him cutting and slashing at the rim could help Memphis in the paint.
Andrew Bogut's defense has contributed to the issues, but it's not the entire reason. Perhaps it's fatigue. Maybe the Grizzlies are just too tired to play bully ball and pound it in the paint and finish their shots. Maybe they're expecting a whistle from the officials when they shoot. Whatever the case, it can't be that way tonight. The Warriors made 14 three's on Wednesday, and the Grizzlies cannot afford a repeat performance tonight shooting. They have to make the Warriors play physical in the paint, and the Grizzlies can't shy away from contact. If Memphis can start converting their buckets in the painted area, then that will help solve their scoring woes that have plagued them as of late.
2. Marc Gasol Needs To Play Like An All-Star Again
Marc Gasol was generally great in the Portland series, but he still wasn't quite like he was at the beginning of this season. As this series has gone on, Marc has played progressively worse. It seems like Golden State has figured out how to frustrate Marc, and he has let it get to him the past few games. In Game 4, although he had 19 points, he shot 36.8% from the field (7-19). The same story was repeated in Game 5. He scored 18 points but only shot 36.4% from the field (8-22). This is far below his season average, which was 49.4%. He appeared visibly frustrated in the last game as he was clanking wide open free throw line jumpers, and he didn't attack the basket enough.
The frustration manifests itself in his play. He's either passing the ball when he should shoot or he's taking a tough shot that he can't make consistently. He's had a combined 8 free throw attempts in the past two games. Marc Gasol is clearly the best player on the team with Mike Conley, but he is reverting back to his old ways to a certain degree. Since the All-Star break, Big Spain has taken a dip in his shooting stats. The playoffs are where All-Stars show off and prove what they're made off. Well, it's time for Gasol to show up and help carry his team to victory. I expect full effort from Marc, and he needs to attack the rim more and shoot more free throws. No one wants to win more than Marc Gasol does, but he can't afford to get frustrated by Golden State's defense. As one of the leaders of this team, he needs to go big tonight for Memphis.
3. Leave It All Out On The Court
And finally, the Grizzlies have to leave it all out on the court tonight. It's not yet time for regrets or what-ifs. There's still hope. The season isn't over yet, but a loss tonight means that it will be. Memphis has to come out differently than they did the past two games. They have to go for all of the loose balls, and they have to rebound better. Although Golden State and Memphis had very similar rebound and steal numbers the past two games, the Warriors made the Grizzlies pay for every mistake they made and capitalized on every steal and offensive rebound. Memphis has to make Golden State pay for their mistakes and value every possession.
In the Portland series, the Grizzlies did a great job of not turning the ball over an excessive amount. In the past couple of games, though, they had 16 turnovers in each match. The Grizzlies' defense was less than perfect in Game 5, and that was partially due to the absence of Tony Allen AKA "The Grindfather." His added presence tonight should jolt some hustle into the other Memphis players, and he should help with the 50/50 balls that the Grizzlies just couldn't get on Wednesday. However, Tony Allen alone cannot carry the Grizzlies to victory. It has to be a team effort, and everyone has to leave everything on the court. They owe it to themselves and their fans. The phrase "All Heart" needs to come into fruition again as Memphis takes the floor tonight.
There's no doubt that, despite the negative outcomes of the past two games, FedEx Forum will be packed and ready to cheer their team on. The Grizzlies will come out of the gate with revenge on their minds, and the crowd will help energize them. The return of Tony Allen will equal an increase of steals for the Grizzlies, and his defense will help contain the Warriors' hot shooting they've had the past two games. Steph Curry, who has been amazing the past couple of games, will continue to shoot well from the field.
However, Klay Thompson will struggle with Tony Allen on him once again. Zach Randolph will do a better job at containing Draymond Green, and Marc Gasol will get his mojo back. The Warriors will continue to score points off of the Grizzlies' mistakes, but the Grizzlies will make less mistakes than they have been making as of late. Tony will also help with the Grizzlies' rebounding issues, and Memphis will win the rebounding battle as well as the paint battle. The Warriors' efficient shooting from three will keep them in the game, and it'll be closer down the stretch than it has been the whole series. Memphis will continue to struggle from three point land, but the Grizzlies will come up with the necessary hustle plays and will force a Game 7.
Prediction: Memphis 100, Warriors 96
WHO: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Golden State Warriors
WHAT: Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Golden State leads the series 3-2
WHEN: 8:30 PM CT on ESPN/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
WHERE: FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHY: To keep their season alive and force a Game 7 in Oakland on Sunday.
Memphis: Tony Allen (Questionable, Hamstring) (Stated he would play in Game 6 after Game 5)
Golden State: Marreese Speights (Out, Calf), Ognjen Kuzmic (Questionable, Ankle)
PROBABLE STARTERS FOR GAME SIX:
|Position||Golden State Warriors (67-15, 1 Seed)||Memphis Grizzlies (55-27, 5 Seed)|
|Point Guard||Stephen Curry||Mike Conley|
|Shooting Guard||Klay Thompson||Courtney Lee|
|Small Forward||Harrison Barnes||Tony Allen|
|Power Forward||Draymond Green||Zach Randolph|
|Center||Andrew Bogut||Marc Gasol|