If it’s anything like their sensational play-in contest, and if each team plays to the standard they’ve set this season, the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors should put on a stellar 7-game series. This matchup features the league’s two best point guards (Ja Morant and Steph Curry), two elite defensive Spartans (Jaren Jackson Jr. and Draymond Green), two of the world’s best shooters (Desmond Bane and Klay Thompson), and a slew of complementary role players capable of transforming the game.
We’re in for a treat.
To preview this series, I have Owen Hewitt (@oyounothing), Parish Sharkey (@daone_pshark), Tev Shakir (@TevShakir), Brandon Abraham (@bcabraham) and Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax) with me to talk about the Grizzlies and Warriors.
1) What are you looking forward to the most in this Grizzlies/Warriors series?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: I am a romantic when it comes to sports, so I love the story of these young Grizzlies coming at the Warriors much like the young Warriors came at the Grit and Grind Grizzlies back in 2015. Yes, the Steph Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green core has had more success than Memphis ever has. But the parallels are interesting - Golden State was on their way to their 1st Finals victory on that run, but dropped two games to a tough Grizzlies team. Only Cleveland in the Finals also gave them two losses. Can the Grizzlies pull a Warriors, as many have compared them to early years wise, and knock off an aging era? It won’t be easy.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: I’m looking forward to seeing Desmond Bane against Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson. Bane’s leap has been a fun development this season, and his playoff production has been marvelous — averaging 23.5 points on 49.5/48.2/90.0 shooting splits. On the other side, he’s going up against another young guard that’s taken a similar leap to him in Jordan Poole. In addition, he’ll have Klay Thompson on the other side — and the veteran is a probably comparison for Bane, given their 3-point prowess.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: I’m looking forward to the Steph/Dillon matchup. Steph has gotten his points, but Dillon has done a good job of making things extremely difficult for Steph in the matchups over the years. Watching those two run around for a full series is going to be a ton of fun.
Host of the ‘Starting 5’ Parish Sharkey: I’m looking forward to matching up with GSW at full strength. We have not had the chance to play all 3 of Steph, Klay, and Draymond with this current iteration of the Grz Nxt Gen era. Excited to see how the young guns handle the full collection of Warriors weapons in a 7-game series.
Host of the ‘Starting 5’ Tev Shakir: I’m looking forward to watching Ja Morant have a better series than the last. Desmond Bane is leading the team in scoring. I don’t expect that to continue, as I fully expect Ja to come out swinging and take his game to the next level. He has to rise to the occasion to take down Steph Curry and the championship winning core that is the Golden State Warriors. A tall task that I know he can accomplish.
GBB Staff Writer Owen Hewitt: I’m looking forward to seeing arguably the best defensive team in the league in the Warriors matchup with the Grizzlies’ red hot offense. The Warriors handled a Nuggets team that ranked seventh in offensive rating — per Basketball Reference — in their previous series, so it’ll be interesting to see how their defense responds to a very different challenge with Morant and Co. How well the Warriors are able to defend will define the series.
2) Who is the Grizzlies biggest x-factor in this matchup?
Mullinax: Jaren Jackson Jr. is the fairly easy answer here. He’s the best two-way player for Memphis when he is on, but that level of play has been hard to come by from JJJ of late. Golden State provides different issues than Minnesota did - there is no Karl-Anthony Towns with unicorn skills superior offensively to Jaren’s. Jackson Jr. was a +10.9 in 3 games against the Warriors and only committed 11 fouls in 85 minutes. If that Jaren shows up, Memphis has a chance.
Fleming: Jaren Jackson Jr. Obviously, everything with him boils down to staying out of foul trouble. When he’s on the floor, good things happen. The Grizzlies are 5.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. His defensive versatility makes him the x-factor for this series specifically. As the Warriors trend smaller, Jackson allows the Grizzlies to adopt similar principles, while still maintaining a size advantage. He’s has between 4-6 inches on Draymond Green, Otto Porter, and Nemanja Bjelica — the Warriors’ “small-ball 5” options. If he’s the 5 in those situations, and stay on the floor, he could be a difference-maker.
Abraham: Easily Jaren Jackson Jr. for me. When on the floor, he’s one of the best players in the league defensively. He doesn’t have as tough of a matchup as he did last series with KAT and being the helpside rim protector. That said, Draymond Green is one of the smartest players in the NBA and could continue to make this a mostly frustrating postseason for Jaren. If Jaren takes a leap this series, however, it would be massive for Memphis.
Sharkey: Jaren Jackson Jr. He should be able to stay out of foul trouble more often this with him likely guarding players that don’t look to score. Even when he switches onto the guards, he should be able to defend without fouling, I hope. Also, his improvement in rebounding should do wonders for the Grizzlies against the depleted Warriors front court.
Shakir: The biggest X-factor will be Dillon Brooks. Offensively, Dillon is going to be continue to be his aggressive player, you either love or hate. However, I’m expecting Dillon to put on a defensive clinic. The key matchup in the series will be Dillon versus Klay. If the Grizz can hold Klay to under 18 ppg this series, I think it increases there chances to win dramatically. It starts with Dillon making things harder for everyone not named Steph Curry.
Hewitt: I’m tempted to depart from the original nature of the question and say that the biggest x-factor will be home court advantage, as the Warriors were much better at home than on the road in the regular season, but I’ll say that Desmond Bane will prove to be the x-factor. Bane’s playoff star has been rising this season, so he’s not an under-the-radar pick, but his three-point shooting could prove to be the most important weapon for the Grizz in this series. In past series with the Warriors during the Grit and Grind era, the Grizzlies never had a player that could go shot for shot with Steph Curry. Now, I can have faith that if Curry or Klay Thompson get hot and start to light things up from downtown, Bane can punch back with three-balls of his own.
3) The Grizzlies will take care of business against the Warriors if…
Mullinax: Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. arrive fully while Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, and Tyus Jones continue the work they did against Minnesota. Memphis has more depth than Golden State - this matters less in the postseason than it does in the regular season, but the way it impacts the playoffs is variance in terms of the types of counters you can do gameplan wise. Morant and Jackson Jr. both played below expectations against Minnesota and yet the Grizzlies still advanced. Both Ja and Jaren did better against Golden State this season than they did against the Timberwolves. Matchups matter - this one on paper is better for Morant and Jackson Jr.
Fleming: The bench players continue playing at a starter level. The Grizzlies have a strength in numbers over the Warriors. They should use that to their advantage. Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, and Kyle Anderson all contributed at a starter-level in the last series against Minnesota. Clarke feasted on the Timberwolves in the paint, and the translation for that into this series bodes well with the Warriors’ smaller lineups. Anderson served as a great connector that moved the ball, found driving lanes, and created turnovers. Jones was pivotal in closing lineups, serving as an additional playmaker and floor-spacer in halfcourt offense. If the Grizzlies want to prevail and move on to the Western Conference Finals, these 3 players will have a big say there.
Abraham: They contain the 3-point shooting. Memphis allowed a talented Minnesota team to shoot extremely efficiently from beyond the arc last series. Memphis was able to overcome that with timely offense, and frankly poor execution by the Timberwolves. They can’t bank on the Warriors making the same dumb mistakes Minnesota did. Golden State will get hot at certain points from deep, but Memphis needs to be ready to weather the storm.
Sharkey: They can play their style and run and limit the death blows the Warriors give. Ja Morant will have to be the best player in this series as the Warriors don’t have the personnel to limit him from getting into the paint. This is a different series and matchup but some of the defensive lapses they had against the Timberwolves can’t happen as often in this series.
Shakir: They attack! I expect the Warriors to try to run against the young Grizz and vice versa. Draymond Green will likely start at center, or he will play this position majority of the series. This should be the green light for the Grizz to continue their dominance in the paint offensively and defensively. Energy is everything. Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman shifted last series with their energy and relentless play. To say their play can change this series as well would be an understatement.
Hewitt: The Grizzlies will take care of business if Ja Morant can be fourth-quater Ja for all four quarters. We saw Morant adjust to the defensive strategy of the Wolves fairly well, taking on the role of distributor as he drew more and more defensive attention, but the Grizzlies need Morant to be in attack mode for the whole game. Simply put, the Grizzlies need the team’s best player to play aggressive basketball. If Morant can set that tone, the rest of the team will be able to follow.
4) The Grizzlies will have trouble with the Warriors if…
Mullinax: They can’t limit the Warriors in areas that opportunity exists. Stephen Curry is the greatest three point shooter ever. Dillon Brooks has slowed him in the past, but he is going to get his. The key is to not allow Klay Thompson, who is an impactful player but not what he once was, and Jordan Poole (explosive offensively, unlikely to slow/stop Desmond Bane or Dillon Brooks to get to their spots defensively) beat them. If all three have free access to the Warriors offense and Draymond Green holds court on both ends of the floor, Golden State will win in 6.
Fleming: The Grizzlies end up at some Poole parties. Curry and Thompson have been cooking in the postseason; the former has averaged 28 points per game this postseason, while the latter has made 22 three’s at a 45.8 percent clip. It’s hard to envision them cooling down to a significant degree this series. Jordan Poole, though, is the tipping point for the Warriors — the piece that elevates them from “really good” to “Finals contenders.” Poole has averaged 21 points and 5.4 assists, while shooting 54.8% from the field and 48.4%. He’s transformed himself into a dynamic shot-maker that can slither into the lane, or use an array of handles to find the bottom of the net from 3. The Grizzlies will have their hands full guarding Poole, Curry, and Thompson. If Poole gets too hot for the Warriors, it could spell trouble for the Grizzlies.
Abraham: The Grizzlies will have trouble with Golden State if the continue to miss easy opportunities. In particular, Memphis needs to be better from the free throw line. Both Golden State and Minnesota have been terrible from the charity stripe in the postseason. Memphis is likely not going to win the 3-point battle against a great Golden State team, so the need to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. If the struggles from the free throw line continue, it will come back to bite them in at least one game.
Sharkey: They become lackadaisical with the basketball. It becomes much harder to withstand the inevitable death blows the Warriors deliver if you give them numerous opportunities. Also, the Grizzlies will have to absolutely dominate the rebounding advantage they have.
Shakir: We lose the rebounding battle. The Warriors are going to shoot! Everyone knows that. The Grizz have to put themselves in position to limit second chance baskets. I’m really hopeful that Coach Jenkins use Steven Adams this series. His physicality can have a huge effect on this series even if it’s 10-15 mins a game. We cannot play GSW ball, we have to play Memphis Grizzlies basketball. Defense wins championships and it can and WILL win us this series.
Hewitt: Jaren Jackson Jr.’s foul troubles persist. Jackson’s a generational defensive talent, and I love that he wants to be aggressive when defending, but he needs to just be a little more careful. In the series against the Wolves, Jaren committed some really unnecessary fouls. Jackson would greatly benefit to saving those fouls to use in the low post to get physical with opponents. That said, Taylor Jenkins also needs to extend the leash of Jackson, as the Grizzlies are just a whole different team when Jackson is on the floor.
5) Who wins this series and how many games will it go?
Mullinax: The Memphis team that played against Minnesota cannot show up for this series. If they do, the Warriors will end their season in 5 or 6 games. They’re the favorites in this series for a reason - the pedigree, the fire power, the legitimately great defense led by Draymond Green. It adds up. But the good news for Memphis is they’re once again the underdog - a position they feel much more comfortable in. Golden State winning this series in any fashion other than a sweep would not be surprising. But the Grizzlies have performed well historically against the Warriors - and I’m not ready to say goodbye yet. As I said in my series preview (check it out here), Grizzlies in 7.
Fleming: If the Grizzlies perform at the same level they did against the Timberwolves, it’s likely Warriors in 6. However, I see the Grizzlies lifting their urgency and force levels against this Warriors squad. Ja Morant and crew will rise to the occasion against this veteran team with several future Hall-of-Famers. I’ll stick with my original pre-postseason prediction and go with the Grizzlies in 7 games.
Abraham: Memphis in 7. I think Memphis matches up well, and guys like De’Anthony Melton and Steven Adams could have larger impacts than what they did against the Timberwolves. It will be a hard fought series, but I think Memphis has enough defensively to pull off the series win.
Sharkey: Sorry, Grizz Nation, I have Warriors in 7. There is something about a core that has won 3 championships going against a team that is still gaining experience that I can’t get past. This has been my prediction since midseason as I have the Warriors winning the NBA Championship. Please prove me wrong Grizzlies.
Shakir: Grizz in 6. Book it.
Hewitt: I think the Grizzlies are able to take it in a really hard-fought seven game series. Like I said earlier, the Grizzlies’ home court advantage should play a huge role in the series. I view protecting home court is the most important aspect of the series, because it’s difficult to pick up a win at the Chase Center. I do think that it will be a long series, but I’m much less certain of the winner.