WHERE: Chase Center in San Francisco, California
WHEN: 2:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: ESPN/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (Out, abdominal), Sean McDermott (Out, foot)
GOLDEN STATE: Damion Lee (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Kelly Oubre Jr. (Out, wrist), James Wiseman (Out, knee), Klay Thompson (Out, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
GOLDEN STATE: Stephen Curry, Kent Bazemore, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the high stakes medal round.
Well...as much as a battle to be the 8 seed in the NBA Western Conference play-in can be considered a “medal”.
But make no mistake, this one has the same “big fight” feel that the first ever play-in game against the Portland Trail Blazers did just over nine months ago. Except this time, the Memphis Grizzlies will indeed get to live to fight another day regardless of the outcome.
Their path to the playoffs is just a heck of a lot tougher with a loss as opposed to a win.
Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and the rest of the Grizzlies are in San Francisco to take on the Golden State Warriors. The winner of this game will clinch the 8 seed in the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament and secure a date with either the Los Angeles Lakers or Portland Trail Blazers. That sounds daunting, and it surely is - especially in you’re taking on an angry LeBron James and the defending champs. However, where the juice is worth the squeeze is in the fact that if you’re the 8 seed and lose to the 7 in that first game, you still have another shot at the playoffs against the winner of the 9-10 seed game. And you’d host that win or go home contest, against either Steph Curry and the Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs. If you somehow knock off Portland or L.A. in that first game? You rest up and prep for the #2 seed in the West, probably the Phoenix Suns but possibly the Utah Jazz, as the #7 seed in the 2021 Western Conference Playoffs. The opportunities are much better going in to the play-in if you’re the #8 seed. Only one win is needed to get in to the playoffs.
So, to summarize - a loss today would make the Grizzlies the #9 seed, hosting a play-in game Wednesday against the slumping Spurs but having to win two games to get in to the playoffs instead of one. Meanwhile, a win today over the 7-3 in their last 10 games Warriors would mean two bites at the playoff apple, and a chance to be the #7 seed as opposed to the #8.
That’s what is on the line for the young Memphis Grizzlies, who are about to dive head first in to the world of NBA postseason basketball. Yes, it’s the final regular season game. But it feels a hell of a lot bigger than that.
Here are some keys to this afternoon’s game.
Make Steph Curry uncomfortable
The last time that Stephen Curry took on the Memphis Grizzlies was March 27th, 2019. Of course Golden State has faced off with Memphis since then, but Steph was not on the floor - the 2019-2020 season was one to forget for the Warriors due to injuries to both Klay Thompson and Steph, and this season Curry missed the two games against the Grizzlies in March with a tailbone contusion. In the 2019 showdown Curry grabbed 10 rebounds while scoring 28 points on 20 shots (6-12 from three) and dishing out 7 assists. Golden State won by 15 points over the Grizzlies.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. For one, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant started that game for the Warriors alongside DeMarcus Cousins. In fact, outside of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney no other currently active roster member for the Warriors played in that game. Meanwhile, for the Grizzlies Jonas Valanciunas was joined in the starting lineup by Mike Conley, Tyler Dorsey, Bruno Caboclo, and Justin Holiday. Jonas was the only current Memphis player that actually played in the contest - Chandler Parsons and Delon Wright logged 25 minutes and took turns defending Steph. Ivan Rabb played 15 minutes!
Things got dark in 2019. How soon we forget.
Now, the current Warriors are of course without Durant, and Thompson is still out due to injury, but Curry is also still the very best shooter on the planet. Most of these particular Memphis Grizzlies have not encountered Curry before...except for Valanciunas and perhaps the one that matters the most trying to stop him, Dillon Brooks - who last saw him in 2018 as a rookie due to injuries of his own in the 2018-2019 season. Brooks should be taking on the main task of defending Curry, but Coach Taylor Jenkins (who also has never faced Curry as a Head Coach) will surely try to vary the match-ups, levels of physicality, and coverages against Steph to never let him get a consistent line of sight at the basket.
Expect Brooks, De’Anthony Melton, and perhaps even Kyle Anderson at times to try to slow down arguably the greatest shooter in the history of the National Basketball Association. They cannot allow the newness of the showdown or the size of the stage, which of course Curry is more that used to, to stifle their focus. You will not stop Curry. But Memphis must hope to contain him if they’re going to win.
Don’t let the “other guys” beat you
Curry deserves extra attention, and the variety of defenders and schematic focuses make sense. But they should not come at the expense of allowing other Warriors to have their way. The last time Golden State fielded their current version of a “full” team was in a six point victory over the Phoenix Suns earlier this week. In that game, Steph shot an ice cold 1-11 from three and scored 21 points on 22 shots. That line would have angered Memphis fans about Rudy Gay back in the day - so how did the Dubs get a dub against one of the NBA’s best with Curry struggling so much?
Andrew Wiggins scored 38 points on 24 shots. Kent Bazemore went 7-12 from the field. Draymond Green posted a triple double, and Jordan Poole scored 20 points off the bench. Curry is not an army of one, and Golden State’s recent resurgence isn’t a fluke. These dudes can play.
Memphis must make sure that they prioritize forcing Curry to beat them almost all alone. Hell, he is possibly capable of doing that. But Steph had an off night against Phoenix, and they were still able to beat the Suns. It is not as simple as just turning off his water - the team must stick their responsibility and rotate well off of ball movement and dribble penetration. Wiggins must be identified at all times. Green must be forced to work hard defensively so he is not as fresh as a point forward making decisions.
It will take a total team effort.
Golden State is a 4.5 point favorite as of this writing, and that feels about right. Both the Warriors and Grizzlies are on five game winning streaks, but the Golden State run is more impressive with victories over Phoenix and the Utah Jazz. Memphis’ “best” win was over the Dallas Mavericks over that same stretch of games, but the fact that the Grizzlies won all five of those games in the span of seven days makes it just as impressive. The Memphis starters did not play Friday, making this game the first time since the All-Star Break that Ja Morant, Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks, and Kyle Anderson are playing with two days rest that isn’t injury related (Friday night’s “soreness” aside).
Fresh legs and depth (Golden State played an 8-man rotation against the Suns) will make the difference as Memphis survives their first date with Curry in over two years and heads to the play-in as the #8 seed.
Memphis 116, Golden State 112