Tonight, the Golden State Warriors come to town for the final contest of the Grizzlies’ four-game homestand. The Grizz are 3-0 since returning to FedExForum last Tuesday, beating the Nets, Pacers, and Bucks. Memphis is 8-1 since March 8 and on Saturday against Milwaukee, they improved to 17-2 without Ja Morant.
In their last six regular-season meetings, the Grizzlies are 3-3 against the Warriors. There have been some tight matchups in the past two seasons, including an overtime win at the Chase Center near the beginning of the season and a comeback victory in January. And, of course, who can forget when the Grizzlies ended Golden State’s season with a victory in the play-in tournament last year.
In three meetings this year between Golden State and Memphis, Ja Morant has averaged 26.7 points and 6.3 assists, while Steph Curry has averaged 36.3 points and 7.3 assists. However, since both teams will be without their star guards tonight, it will be up to two of the league’s best supporting casts to lift their teams to victory.
Ahead of tonight’s game, I hear from Joe Viray, a staff writer for Golden State of Mind — SB Nation’s Golden State Warriors blog — to discuss what could be a playoff preview.
1) Golden State and Memphis are both without their star point guards for tonight’s matchup. How will the absence of Ja change the Warriors’ defensive approach?
Not having Ja around obviously helps the Warriors. But by how much? The Grizzlies are a pretty good team even without Ja — they’re 17-2 without him. They’re one of the rare teams in the league who are legitimately 10-plus deep. A dirty little secret about the Warriors defense is that it has had a bit of trouble with heliocentric offenses, or offenses that make use of an on-ball pressure point. The Grizzlies not having that in Ja will make the Warriors have to defend with a more team-based approach: close out on shooters, limit overhelp from the corners, and, arguably most importantly, haul in defensive rebounds against the best offensive rebounding team in the league and win the possession battle.
2) Recently, I have been enamored by Jonathan Kuminga and I think he could be a huge X-factor in the playoffs. How will he impact tonight’s game?
Jonathan Kuminga really has been a revelation. If you go by pace metrics — per 36, per 75/100 possessions — he’s actually leading all rookies in scoring. He’s earned trust from the coaching staff. You rarely see a rookie earn these kinds of minutes we’re seeing. When the playoffs come around, Kuminga will be a much-needed source of rim pressure on a team that doesn’t really have a lot of it, at least in the traditional sense. He can also play off more immediate threats such as Steph, Klay, and Jordan Poole, whether as a screen setter or someone who can cut and score on the margins off of their gravity. In a potential series against the Grizzlies and during tonight’s game, his activity on both ends of the floor will be crucial.
3) Since Jordan Poole was inserted into the starting lineup on March 12, he has averaged 26.7 points per game on 48.1% shooting from the field and 42.7% from three. I find him really difficult to evaluate because I have no idea what his ceiling could be. What is the limit for Jordan Poole?
I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said that Poole’s ceiling is that of a perennial All-Star. He’s such a dynamic offensive player — can score at all 3 levels, can set the table for others, can pass, you name it. I think he still needs to shed the “streaky” label, and he also has strides to make in terms of being a defender, especially off the ball. But there’s no doubt that he’s about to get more expensive for the Warriors.
4) Klay Thompson returned to play in January after missing two seasons due to injury. This year, however, he has averaged a career-low in FG% and 3P%. Returning from two serious leg injuries was always going to be difficult, but the Warriors ceiling feels lower if Klay does not somewhat return to form. What do you expect from Klay as the intensity ramps up in the playoffs?
Klay actually ramped up (a favorite term around Warriors land lol) his minutes to 40 against the Hawks the other night, and scored 37 points on 26 shots on 70% True Shooting. His legs aren’t fully there yet, but you’re seeing him getting back to the old Klay, albeit slowly. I don’t think he’ll be fully back to the old Klay till probably the start of next season, but if the Warriors get a Klay who’s around 80-90% of the way back for the playoffs — making timely shots, occasionally taking some of the shot-creation reps, being on the floor to create space and gravity, and taking turns defending the other team’s best perimeter scorer — that would be ideal.
5) The Grizzlies are now four games up on the Warriors for the two-seed in the Western Conference. If Memphis and Golden State were to meet in the second round, how important do you think it is that game seven would be played in the 901?
The Warriors aren’t strangers to playing within a hostile Memphis crowd during the playoffs. The memories of that tough 2015 series against the Grit and Grind Grizzlies are still fresh, and it’s the series that’s often credited as the hump the Warriors got over on their way to becoming a legitimate championship team.
The parallels are actually really uncanny — only this time, it’s the Grizzlies who are the young and upcoming team with a lot of swagger but a lot to prove, and the Warriors have the battle-tested veterans who’ve been there and done that. That is a storyline that makes this series worth watching, and with the Grizzlies having homecourt advantage, it’s going to be one tough series for the Warriors, even if they have a proven core. Whoever wins or loses, the true winners are fans who love watching great basketball.