5. The Grizzlies Are a Matchup Nightmare For Golden State
Everyone knew this game – against a 19-4 team at home – was going to be the toughest on the Warriors’ current streak, but it can’t be overstated how much the Warriors missed Bogut in this one. Preferring to keep Marreese Speights starting on the bench to add a scoring punch with the second unit, Kerr once more started Festus Ezeli. Though Ezeli is much improved from his rookie season in 2012-13, he’s still a hacker who hasn’t played 20 minutes in a game this season. Last night against bruisers Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, he racked up 4 fouls in just 13 minutes.
With Speights the only true big who’s played meaningful minutes this season, Steve Kerr had to find creative alternatives, like:
4. Warriors Can go extra small
Down 69-82 going into the fourth quarter and Marc Gasol out of the game, Steve Kerr decided to go with a super small lineup, starting with Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green. Only a couple of minutes in, though, he replaced Barnes with Steph Curry, meaning Green was the only forward on the court.
The results were mixed – Golden State went on a quick 13-4 run to get the game to 82-86. When Gasol reentered the game, though, Golden State was just too small. They had to double the Grizzlies, who put shooters around Gasol and Randolph and stifled the Golden State offense while going on a mini 11-6 run of their own. It wasn’t until Marreese Speights reentered the game for the Warriors that they had a real chance, cutting the game to 96-99 before Memphis pulled away for good.
This was a gutsy move by Kerr, as it was the first time those five guys have played together. It might have worked even better, if not for the fact that…
3. Teams Are Going to Dare Draymond Green to Shoot
In the five games since his 31-point, 7-three game against Chicago, Green has gone just 3-16 from deep, good for just 18.8%. Last night, you could see Memphis just daring Green to shoot the ball, only lightly contesting his four deep balls. He missed all four of them.
And while it’s clear Green has improved his shooting this season – he’s currently making 35% of his threes, a respectable number – teams are much more likely to leave him open than fellow wing Harrison Barnes (who’s shooting 41% from deep this year) in favor of helping. Because while Thompson and Curry would probably prefer to bomb away from deep, defenders have to guard against the jump shot so much that it opens up driving lanes and kickouts for the Splash Brothers. Memphis wanted to make sure those kickouts were going to Green. Can he knock them down when it matters?
2. The Grizzlies Can Score
Though these are two of the best defenses in the NBA, most experts would have assumed a slow-it-down, low-scoring game would be an advantage for Memphis, where the Warriors would have a better chance winning a high-scoring affair. And while this is still probably true because of how good Golden State is in transition, the 2014-15 Grizzlies are scoring at a newly efficient pace. Right now, they’re just .4 points per 100 possessions worse than the Warriors and are 7th in the league. They’re fifth in field goal percentage, ninth in free throw percentage, and, most shockingly, third in three-point percentage this season. They don’t turn the ball over, either, with just 13 per game.
The last four seasons, we’ve seen Memphis lose twice to the Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games, to the Clippers once in seven, and reach the Western Conference Finals before being swept by a team that just dismantled LeBron’s Heat, and their offensive efficiency never rose above 15th in the league. Could the Grizz be a Finals team with this kind of shooting?