It’s no secret that Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies had Golden State’s number in the regular season. The postseason is a completely different ball game, however.
The young but all of a sudden somewhat experienced Grizzlies squad got a little blindsided with that realization in round one, but they ate the blow and continued to fight. With the exception of their blowout win in game two, Memphis had to fight and claw until the very end in each and every win against the seven-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves.
Fighting has been an integral part of the Memphis Grizzlies identity since Zach Randolph and the ‘Grit n Grind’ days. It’s quite literally the reason why they’re still alive to face Stephen Curry and the Warriors in round two. And after going 3-1 in the regular season versus Golden State, Memphis is most certainly going to be coming into this series with confidence. Not that confidence is ever an issue for Morant and the rest of this Grizzlies crew, but you’re kidding yourselves if you think these teams aren’t well aware of those regular-season matchups.
The thing is, the Warriors know that if they take care of business none of that noise matters. They know as well as anyone, “It don’t mean a thing without a ring”. The Warriors couldn’t care less about the outcome of games in November and December and January. As Draymond Green once infamously said, – or supposedly said – the Warriors want “16 game players”.
The Grizzlies do pose as a poor matchup for Golden State but this should be an entertaining series regardless, so let’s dive in.
Style of Play
Much like the Warriors, the Grizzlies want to play a fast style of play but the way they like to capitalize in the open court is much different. In the opening round of the playoffs, Golden State shot 44.1% of their field goal attempts from distance compared to just 36.1% for Memphis – nearly 64% of their shots came from inside the arc and they’re second in the playoffs in points in the paint whereas Golden State is 11th.
Memphis wants to get out in transition to use their speed and athleticism to punish you inside the paint and at the rim. But don’t mistake their decisiveness at the three-point line for not having shooters. Memphis was in the middle of the pack in 3PT% this season, but second-year starting shooting guard Desmond Bane is one of the best shooters in the entire league and almost everyone in their rotation is at the very least a threat to hit from the outside – Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr, Kyle Anderson… the list goes on.
In the regular season, Memphis was seventh in the league in free throw attempts per game while Golden State was 26th. But where does that really get tricky for Golden State? The Warriors averaged the fourth most fouls per game in the league this year. Not only that, but the Grizzlies were the best offensive rebounding team in the league this season and the Warriors gave up the third most offensive rebounds per game in round one, although they were much better on the defensive glass over the course of the regular season.
The Warriors’ lack of size has been stressed all season long and the physicality of the Grizzlies and how this series gets officiated is something to watch.
A lot of the Grizzlies’ success comes from getting out on the fast break as they led the league in fast-break points during the regular season. The Warriors also have quite a bit of success out on the break (7th in the regular season) but the Warriors are also a fine-tuned machine in the half-court where the Grizzlies can struggle at times.
Minnesota had quite a bit of success against the Grizzlies’ half-court offense in round one, and although Minnesota has better, longer athletes across the board, the Warriors need to force Morant and the rest of the Grizzlies to execute against a set defense. Golden State did a good job of protecting the rock for the most part in round one, and their offense is going to need to do the same in round two to make life on the other end a little easier.
The Fifth Starter
So, who had “Warriors still figuring out their starting lineup” in May on their bingo card? Injuries have affected this team all season long and Curry’s return from injury was still a headline going into round one. Now that Steve Kerr inserted Curry back into the starting lineup, the Warriors still have yet to figure out their exact playoff rotation.
Winning or losing in the playoffs can often be reliant on matchups and while this isn’t an ideal match-up for the Warriors, they still have more talent across the board and a lot more playoff experience than Memphis, even though they are no stranger to these moments either.
Defense is going to be the key to the Warriors coming out of this series victorious, and Gary Payton II should be the fifth starter. Coincidentally, in Golden States’ lone win versus Memphis this season, GPII started.
The Warriors want to switch when defending the pick and roll, and while there are certain guys they should be wary of switching onto Morant, the star third-year guard doesn’t have a ton of success against the switch.
Morant took just 13 shots versus the switch in round one but I think that’s going to come into play a lot more often against Golden State.
GPII is the right guy to complement Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, and Kevon Looney against Memphis, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Golden State can count on Payton to match the energy of the Grizzlies and he’s the team’s second-best defender. In a series that is going to be a physical battle each and every night, you need guys like Payton on the floor as much as possible. GPII is a guy that makes winning plays on both ends of the floor and as we all watched in game five versus Denver, he rises up to the occasion too. And I think he’ll do just that in this series.
The Warriors might sacrifice a little bit of offense on paper by putting him into the starting lineup but more often than not Payton rewards Kerr and company for giving him minutes. He can guard any of the Grizzlies’ perimeter players and he’s good enough to hold his own on switches against bigger players. Payton is a gamer and Kerr needs to give him the opportunity to let his skills shine on the brightest of stages.
This series is going to be an absolute dog fight, and I’m expecting quite a bit of chaos to arise in this series. It’s a rare clash of a young, hungry team versus an old, hungry team. The Grizzlies want to solidify themselves as one of the league’s top teams and finally receive the respect they feel they deserve, while Golden State wants to prove that their run didn’t end in 2019.
Memphis is a legitimate threat to come out of the West and they’ve had a truly remarkable season but it isn’t their time just yet.
I like the Warriors’ experience and shot-making in this one; I also trust their defense more, even if they are at a size and athleticism disadvantage. They’re going to have to grind it out and it won’t always look pretty, but give me Golden State in seven.
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