Yes, the mighty Golden State Warriors. With three Hall of Famers, and years of “championship experience” that was lauded as they broke the hearts of the young Grizzlies in Game 4 of this series. The dynasty that has earned the respect of just about everyone that follows the NBA through their own journey to the top of the proverbial mountain on numerous occasions. That veteran team - that had every reason to want to end this series in 5 on Wednesday night - fell flat on their face. And now, they’re heading back to the Bay - but not to prepare for the Western Conference Finals. They must prepare for a Game 6 - a contest they’ll be favored in, understandably so. But a game in which all the pressure will squarely be on them.
Because if they do not finish these Grizzlies at home, they may not finish them at all.
Memphis came in the Game 5 in the exact same position the Warriors find themselves in now. The Grizzlies were at home, staring down the barrel of an exit from the postseason that was predicted by most but still would have felt like a let down after the amazing season the team had to this point. Ja Morant’s bone bruise injury that has him doubtful for the remainder of the playoffs certainly could have dampened the energy of this usually immaculately vibed squad, as well as the fact that so many doubted what they were capable of entering the game. The Grizzlies were the underdogs at home, as Golden State was favored by 4 by the start of the game. Steph Curry said the goal was to “Whoop that Trick”, harkening to what is becoming a legendary chant at Grizzlies games in key moments and after big wins. Say the Warriors didn’t want to win that game - as some in the media suggested - isn’t correct. They did. Why would a team with older stars WANT to play three games in 5 days with three plane trips from San Francisco, to Memphis, and back to San Fran? Of course they wanted this to end.
Memphis just wanted it to continue more.
Jaren Jackson Jr. wanted it more, dominating on both ends of the floor as he continues to realize that Golden State cannot stop him in their current state with only one truly good (in this case great defensively) big in Draymond Green. Desmond Bane wanted it more, appearing to be more healthy and comfortable than he has been with his back ailment in some time. Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Steven Adams, Kyle Anderson, Ziaire Williams...they all wanted it more.
The much maligned Dillon Brooks, whose offensive issues continued but was a force defensively as the Grizzlies helped the Warriors be careless with the basketball to the tune of 22 turnovers, wanted it more. Many of those lost possessions came before “garbage time” began in the middle of the third quarter as Golden State acting head coach Mike Brown pulled his starters. This hurt the Warriors more than anything - Steph Curry and Klay Thompson went 6-14 from three. Golden State shot 45% from the field and almost 36% from beyond the arc - both within two points of their season average.
The Warriors were 29th in the NBA this season in turnovers. Them struggling in this area wasn’t a surprise. The ability for the Grizzlies defense to help them in those problems as effectively as they did - and scoring 29 points off those turnovers - made the difference.
As did the fact that Memphis had 15 more assists than the Warriors. Or the return of the rebounding advantage that the Grizzlies were supposed to have in this series from the beginning to the tune of 55 to 37 - including a massive 18 to 4 offensive rebound edge. The fact that Memphis outshot them in every possible category - including a rare win in free throw percentage - is icing on the cake that led to the blowout win for the Grizzlies. The passing, the protection of the basketball (37 assists to only 10 turnovers for Memphis), the domination on the glass, the “stocks” (16 total steals and blocks for the Grizzlies compared to 8 for Golden State)...that is the Grizzlies standard at work. That is what should give Memphis fans hope that this series could very well come back to FedExForum for a massive Game 7.
And that’s why people thinking Golden State will walk to a win in Game 6 are likely mistaken.
The Warriors have earned all the respect they receive overall due to their body of work over the life of the Steph/Klay/Draymond core era. But when your offense is so dependent on three players getting hot (Curry/Thompson/Jordan Poole, who the Grizzlies keyed on often in particular in Game 3 in terms of attacking him on offense) and you have an elite facilitator in Green that is not a scoring threat, your scoring is potentially elite but also potentially stagnant when those factors are negated. Memphis thrived doing that in Game 5 - playing off of Draymond to force him to either choose to shoot or make another pass as his defender was able to help. Memphis also kept the ball in front on dribble penetration and clogged passing lanes, anticipated ball movement from a usually strong passing team in the Warriors, and rotated well to make sure that open looks, while they happened, were either out of rhythm or not within the initial design of sets.
The Grizzlies also leaned in to their size advantage, prioritizing getting Jaren Jackson Jr. looks both at the top of the key for threes (where he is at best as a shooter) via flare off of screens with Desmond Bane (who Golden State would trap a la Ja Morant) as well as off the dribble and in to the low block to take players at the rim. Steven Adams had multiple offensive rebounds on multiple offensive possessions that led to Grizzlies points - just as they had done the entire regular season. Kyle Anderson used his length and size on both ends as well as his well-known offensive skill set (well...everything but the shooting) to post a very Slow-Mo 9 point/7 assist/6 rebound in 19 minutes performance.
Memphis may not always make 18 threes at a 43% clip. But the assists, the steals, the blocks, the rebounding...they did those things all season long. And they have found a formula to inflict their will on the Warriors.
The Chase Center in Game 6 will be rocking in favor of Golden State Friday night. The Warriors role players will almost certainly play better, as will Jordan Poole. But while many picked Golden State to win this series in 5 or 6 games - obviously the latter still within the realm of possibility - only in one game did the Warriors look the part of undisputed favorite - Game 3. In Game 1 Memphis was a lay-up away from a victory. Game 4 was more about Steph Curry being an all-time scorer and Draymond Green making a key defensive play off a questionable shot choice (which happened much more in Game 4 than 5 across the Memphis board) as the Grizzlies squandered a late lead to a veteran squad. Games 2 and 5 were Grizzlies wins, in Memphis.
Golden State had better hope they finish the Grizzlies at Chase Center. For now, two blowout wins essentially cancel each other out. And across three games the point differential is Grizzlies +1. If Memphis can find a way to finish what they started in Game 4 and apply the same standard of play - not shooting, but Grizzlies basketball beyond made buckets - they displayed for the world to see in Game 5, there will be a Game 7 as they silence the Warriors home crowd. And if Golden State thought FedExForum was rocking in Game 5...they haven’t seen anything yet.
There are plenty of reasons to logically argue that the Warriors will win Game 6. Perhaps they will. But don’t assume this thing is over as the series heads back to the Bay.
That is exactly what these underdog Grizzlies want to you to think.
Belief is a powerful thing. Memphis believes. Underestimate that strength at your own peril. 3-1 leads have been blown before. And it will happen again.
The Grizzlies can’t come back without Ja Morant against the mighty Warriors down 3-1? Says who? We’re a step closer to that reality happening.
Two more steps to go.