For the second year in a row, the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies will face off to determine each other’s fortunes in the playoffs. However, the context has completely changed.
Warriors and Grizzlies faced off in last year’s NBA Play-In Tournament. With Stephen Curry and Draymond Green carrying the Warriors without Klay Thompson along with a young and unproven roster, the Grizzlies were eager to prove they should be taken seriously. A year later, the landscape has already changed between the two teams as they prepare for a semi-final match.
Grizzlies host Warriors in Game 1 on Sunday (3:30 a.m. ET on ABC) as a viable championship contender. Although it took the Grizzlies six games to eliminate the seventh-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, the Grizzlies have a strong mix of young talent who possess remarkable maturity, including two dynamic scorers and playmakers (Ja Morant, Desmond Bane) as well as a defensive player candidate of the Year (Jaren Jackson Jr.).
As for the Warriors, they have the familiar characters that helped them win three NBA titles in five Finals appearances. They have arguably the NBA’s best shooter (Steph Curry), the league’s second-best shooter (Klay Thompson), the league’s best healthy defenseman (Draymond Green), and a statesman always eager to show off. his value in the playoffs (Andre Iguodala).
But they also returned to the playoffs because they struck a good balance between mixing their league-tested players with an otherwise young roster. Third-year guard Jordan Poole has become the standout character after emerging as the Darkhorse’s Most Improved Player nominee a year after spending time in the G League.
All of this should make for an engrossing series filled with twists and turns.
3 things to watch
1. Steph vs. Ja
Curry and Morant will intend to show their greatness. They want to do it against each other. To be clear, Curry and Morant remain more motivated by winning. That’s what makes generational NBA talent (Curry) and rising league star (Morant) so great. But expect them to try to show their superiority against each other.
Remember when Curry wanted to defend Morant in their first game last season after the two stars shot each other in veiled and playful fashion on social media? Or when Curry (36 points, scoreless fourth quarter) and Morant (30 points, winning layup) faced off in the Grizzlies 104-101 overtime win on the Warriors earlier this season?
Expect more fireworks again. Curry reclaimed his starting spot and looked as sharp as ever after a month-long absence with a left foot injury. He established himself as a reliable defender. Although Morant shot just 38.6% in the Grizzlies’ first-round win over Minnesota while dealing with right knee pain, he never tempered his confidence and ability to make plays. winners. Nothing captured that mindset more than Morant’s winning workout in Game 5. Expect more highlight reels to emerge and social media jabs to resurface.
Admittedly, Curry may not have the primary defensive mission on Morant. Expect the Warriors to give Morant different doses of Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II. But Curry will definitely want to face this game. Expect Morant to do the same.
2. Will Poole build on his early playoff success?
On a national stage, Poole showed why the Warriors touted him all season as a Kia Most Improved Player candidate. With Curry suffering from a minute restriction due to his injury, Poole started in his place and finished with the second-most points in franchise history in their first three playoff appearances ( Wilt Chamberlain had 116 and Poole had 86). He also became a member of a deadly small-ball formation that sparked both interest in the group’s nickname and intrigue over the team’s shooting and speed. In 39 minutes and five games, the Warriors’ lineup of Curry, Poole, Thompson, Green and Wiggins produced strong ratings on both offense (141.2) and defense (119.8).
“I don’t really have any expectations,” Poole said. “I didn’t know what to expect because it was my first time here. But I certainly learned a lot. I feel like I learned a lot from the games we just played.
Can Poole produce a successful recall? The third-year guard has shown confidence throughout the playoffs and has the right humility to accept his role. But after shooting a combined 28-for-42 in Games 1-3 against Denver, Poole shot just 3-for-10 in Games 4 and 5. It seems inevitable that the Grizzlies will physically play Poole, much like the Nuggets finally did. . So how will Poole react?
Poole has the luxury of relying on quality shooters (Curry, Thompson) and playmakers (Curry, Green) if he becomes a big part of the Grizzlies’ scouting report. But it will also allow further testing if it fits properly. He showed he could do it. It will just be a matter of how quickly Poole can make those tactical changes in real time.
3. Expect the Warriors and Grizzlies to have a small roster
The Warriors don’t have a proper center as James Wiseman has been out all season with injuries. Golden State also made the philosophical decision to prioritize his positional versatility and presence on the wing. Plus, they have a very good defender who scored a Hall of Fame career by mastering all five positions.
“Draymond has the green light to do whatever he wants there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
The Warriors spent their first-round streak mostly focused on Green and other teammates on Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. Now that the Warriors won’t have to worry about defending an MVP candidate, they’re unlikely to defend another traditional center.
The Grizzlies have rarely faced center Steven Adams after recording 24 minutes in their Game 1 loss to Minnesota. Adam missed game 6 as he entered NBA health and safety protocols. The Grizzlies relied on a small roster of Bane, Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke to rally in Game 5. Given Memphis’ success since then, expect that strategy to stay the same.
It will be fascinating to see which team plays best at small ball. Both teams have aggressive scorers, versatile defenders and effective ground spacers. They don’t need to rely on a traditional center as neither team has an elite big man who can score in clusters. They also don’t have a center that won’t be compromised by constant ball movement and pick-and-roll plays.
Kerr and Memphis coach Jenkins got creative with their playoff rotations. Expect more unexpected chess moves.
Number to know
60.8% — In their first-round win over the Denver Nuggets, the Warriors had an effective field goal percentage of 60.8%, the fourth highest rating in a best-of-seven series in NBA history. The Warriors ranked only 16th offensively (112.1 points scored per 100 possessions) in the regular season. But they had offense #1 in the first round, scoring 121.9 per 100 in their five games against Denver. That was 10.4 more per 100 than the Nuggets allowed in the regular season.
Shooting is the most important part of attacking, and ranked warriors second as a percentage of 2 points (58.6%) and first in 3-point percentage (42.2%) in the first round, with three of the the 14 players who shot 40% or better on at least 25 3-point attempts. Two of the three were Curry and Thompson, and the Warriors scored more than 130 points per 100 possessions in their 102 minutes on the floor together.
grizzlies ranked third defensively in the first round, holding the Minnesota Timberwolves 8.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they scored in the regular season. They also had the best regular season defense in the league against Golden State, the Warriors scoring just 101 of 100 points in four games. But Curry missed the final encounter and Thompson played only 20 minutes in total against Memphis. The Warriors outscored the Grizzlies by 17 points (scoring 56 points on 45 possessions) in those 20 minutes (with Curry also on the floor for all 20).
The Warriors and Grizzlies both have a compelling case. They have a lot of stars, a lot of depth and a lot of motivation. But the Warriors have the slight advantage. Technically, Golden State doesn’t have a better health record because of Iguodala’s injury. But Curry, Thompson and Green don’t seem to have any health issues anymore, while Morant struggled with right knee pain during the playoffs. With the Warriors’ main stars healthy and playing at their best, it will give them some extra breathing room in a competitive playoff series. Warriors in 7.
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