After their Game 3 loss in Memphis, the Golden State Warriors find themselves facing a level of adversity they haven’t dealt with all season.
I mean, they won 67 games. Even the normal plays seemed to be highlights. Shoot, Stephen Curry didn’t even have to play in 16 fourth quarters. But it’s the playoffs now, and none of that matters anymore.
What’s happening now, is that Klay Thompson is saying things like this about their next game: “It’s not a must win, but it’s pretty freaking close.”
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So what changed?
Simply put, the Warriors ran into a Memphis Grizzlies team that’s on a mission. And if the last two games were any indicator, it doesn’t seem like the Warriors have what it takes to stop them. Overlooked all season, this Grizzlies team is making a statement against Golden State, and doing so in a big way.
They’re holding the Warriors 20 points below their 110 point per game average. In their two wins, they’ve held Golden State to 23% shooting from behind the arc. And most importantly, they’ve done the seemingly impossible: turned Stephen Curry into a mortal.
After losing Game 1 to the best team in the league, some other squads would’ve lost a little bit of confidence going into Game 2. But these Grizzlies are unlike any other squad. These Grizzlies are a team built on Grit N’ Grind, not the flash and flair that Golden State got by on all season. These Grizzlies understand what it takes to win in the playoffs, and know exactly what it feels like to lose. These Grizzlies are all seasoned playoff vets, and they’re straight up schoolin’ the youngins from the Bay Area.
Stephen Curry and the Warriors are quickly realizing that their style of play doesn’t quite cut it in the postseason. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
They’re not the most exciting team to watch, and they’re certainly not the most talented. But this team has an identity they truly enjoy to embrace, and which sets them apart from the rest of their opponents. In a league full of players who flop around the court, or whine to referees when a call doesn’t go their way, Memphis is one of the few teams that just gets it done.
They understand that not everything is going to go their way. They understand that they’re going to miss some shots. They understand that they’re going to make some mistakes. But at the end of the day, they know what’s going to win them games: toughness.
So they bring that toughness to all aspects of the game. It comes out when you see Mike Conley, who’s playing with his eye swollen half shut, take a big hit on a charge by Leandro Barbosa right after he ripped open some of the stitches on his face. It comes out when Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combine for 43 points, while holding Golden State’s big men to only eight. It comes out when Tony Allen (a.k.a the Grindfather), is able to put the clamps on the Warriors’ perimeter players, while forcing four steals of his own and influencing countless more of Golden State’s 17 total turnovers in Game 2.
In between screams of “First Team All Defense!”, Tony Allen locked down Golden State’s perimeter players, helping hold them to only 6/26 from three. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
It oozes out of everything this Grizzlies team does, and to be frank, Golden State just doesn’t seem ready to handle it.
Curry doesn’t just shoot 4-of-21 from three over the course of two games — Memphis has gotten to him. They’re hounding him extra tight. They’re covering all parts of the floor, whether it’s jumping in and out of passing lanes, helping on screens or doubling down in the post. And they’re making it difficult for him to do find the space to do what he does best.
Other teams have certainly had the game plan, and maybe even the defensive talent. But Memphis has the mentality.
And that mentality comes as a result of their immense playoff experience, something these Warriors severely lack. Experience is necessary to overcome adversity and coming into this postseason, Golden State was only the 10th most playoff seasoned team. But for Conley, Randolph, Gasol and Allen, this is their fifth playoff run together. They’ve battled out seven game series’ together. They’ve made comebacks together. They’ve made the Western Conference Finals together. And now, they’re trying to prove that they can take the next step and become NBA champs.
They don’t care that they only have a single All-Star. They don’t care that they’re just a No. 5 seed. They don’t care about their 26th best PACE Factor, or the fact they have the second worst offensive efficiency of any remaining playoff team.
They just know what it takes to win.
And if the Warriors don’t come back in Game 4 with that same mentality, they’re going to be in trouble.