So that’s what good basketball looks like! Gaddamn!
Last night I made the assumption that the Knicks would lose on the road against another of the Southwest Division’s finest and decided to treat myself to a much better matchup. Your #1 NBA Record Golden State Warriors going against #2 Memphis Grizzlies in the “Grindhouse” Fedex Forum. And, let me say, no regrets. It was lovely to watch a game with no real vested interests, a game with no heartbreak involved, and a game with some very, very pretty basketball.
The Warriors came into this game with a mindboggling 21-2 record (best in franchise history) riding a 16 game winning streak. The kind of winning streak that has seen them beat up all over some of the league’s best teams, begin speculation about whether they can hit the ’96 Bulls 72 win season mark, and, predictably, build up some illegally good chemistry. The Grizz, on the other hand, were home to the league’s 2nd best mark at 19-3 as well as the league’s best homecourt record at 11-1. Grint N’ Grind Baby!
When this game started the Grizzlies were quick to jump all over the fact that Andrew Bogut was riding this one out on the bench with a knee inflammation. There’s a lot of documentation on Bogut’s importance to this team and why his presence is largely responsible for making this the best defensive team in the league in terms of opponent’s field goal percentage. Warriors fans should be quick to note that the team’s first round loss last year in one of the better playoff series I’ve seen came with Bogut on the sideline. A lot of speculation has been made, also by Chris Rock of all people, that the Warriors might not be ill-advised in letting Bogut rest for most of the season. They can use him for around 10 minutes a night, hover around .500 ball, and will still likely make the playoffs with their defensive anchor feeling sprightly. Also, loved the nickname they gave Bogut and David Lee: The Brittle Brothers.
What most people don’t realize is that backup center, Festus Ezeli also missed that playoff series and is a much more solid player than you might expect for someone in his second year. Those assumers included the Grizzlies who gave Marc Gasol the ball for their first four possessions to back down Ezeli one-on-one. Gasol did get the first shot to drop with a nice two-dribble hook, but after that it became clear that Ezeli wasn’t really backing down and he’d have to give the ball up to some other shooters. To be honest, that’s also not really Gasol’s game. I know his scoring is WAYYY up this season, but he’s really at his best as a facilitator from the elbow. He is definitely the best passing big man in the league (sorry Bulls) and has had success throughout his career setting his teammates up. The only reason his scoring has gone way up this year is that coach Dave Joerger has encouraged him to take that midrange jumper when no one is really opening and Gasol is CANNING them. He finished tonight with 24-7.
Still, this game really came down to the 2nd quarter and an offensive EXPLOSION by none other than “Old Man” Vince Carter. Seriously, Carter OWNED that 2nd quarter. I don’t think he could have embarrassed “Defensive Specialist” Andre Iguodala any more even if he’d dunked on him. But the Grizzlies’ bench unit used that knock-down shooting, combined with Warriors’ turnovers and general sloppiness to cause the Dubs to miss 11 shots in a row and go down by as much as 16 before closing out the quarter (a little) to cut the lead to 8.
As for the second half, it is nearly impossible to count the Warriors out of any game. Too much firepower, way too good in transition (Shaun Livingston showed off his hops at one point by throwing down a huge alley-oop (link coming). They were down 12 with 10 minutes left when I looked down for a minute. Okay, maybe a bit more than a minute, because when I came back to it, there were 6 minutes left and we were in a 2 point game. And Memphis was playing SCARED. I would be too, these guys were running the floor like crazy and Thompson and Iguodala were burying pretty much whatever 3 they got enough space to take.
Still, the Grizzlies looked like the better team for most of this game and were able to stave off a few furious Warriors rallies down the stretch. Most notably when the Dubs had cut it to 5 with 35 seconds left and Mike Conley just took Steph Curry to town to drop in a little floater, making the crowd explode. That one pretty much decided the game and should reopen a Power Rankings style debate over which of these two deserves the top spot in the League.
My opinion? The Warriors kind of gave this game away a little, reverting back to their early season turnover woes and coming out absolutely FLAT in the 2nd quarter. Steve Kerr stressed the importance of pace and not getting caught in a half-court battle with the Grizzlies, which is excellent coaching, but was maybe taken a bit too far with the Warriors sometimes sprinting down the floor on 1v3 situations or risking crazy passes. And, my apologies to Vinsanity, but he’s not coming off the bench to go 4-7 from 3 every night. Personally, I’m keeping the Warriors in the top spot, but they should be worried about this Grizzlies squad. And looking forward to April when they FINALLY get to play these guys in the Oracle Arena.
I wanted to focus on a couple of players. For the Warriors, obviously, Steph Curry.
Curry: The Warriors amazing start to the season has put Curry into a front-runner spot for MVP along with James Harden who has kept the Rockets squad remarkably high above water without Dwight Howard. Curry didn’t have his best game last night by any stretch. He went a SHOCKING 1-10 from deep with 3 turnovers and a lot of the time looked like he was running too quickly to control himself. Missing easy 1 on 1 layups that were either converted by a trailing big (MO SPEIGHTS!!), or just squandered as lost points the Warriors really would’ve liked when it came close to the end of this one.
That being said, Curry looks transcendent on the court. His speed, his ball control, the amazing ways he can contort his body around opposing bigs when going to the basket. I think everyone is on the same page in saying Curry is the league’s best PG this year, but really watch him over the course of the game. He’s just playing at another level. And, on a terrible shooting night when none of his 3s were falling, he still managed to lead this team with an incredible +16. Yeesh.
Even more impressive than any of that is his demeanor. His weak ankles and skinny frame has always contributed to the perception that he is, well… a bitch. Not anymore. Curry looks scary this year. He’s dialing in on defense in a way that didn’t happen before (that and Draymond Green starting over David Lee may very well explain this team’s #1 mark on that side of the floor). He’s jumping over groups of bodies to pull down rebounds (7 last night) and he just has a fierce look in his eyes. This guy is growing up in front of our eyes and becoming a dangerous 2 way player.
For the Grizz:
Zach Randolph/Tony Allen: At one point last night the announcers stated the Grizzlies were becoming one of those increasingly rare, throwback teams that feature two traditional big men, instead of going smaller with a stretch 4. Considering how slow and flatfooted Randolph is, I initially agreed with this, thinking that he’s got to be a huge defensive liability if he’s got to run around the floor chasing someone like Kevin Love. But, then I realized. Who is the stretch 4 the Grizzlies have to worry about in the Western Conference? Draymond Green and his 3 ball were nonexistent last night. Donatas Motiejunas?? Come playoff time he should be coming off the bench and is hardly a dominant player. In fact, shout out to the throwback West, but there is only 1 playoff team right now with a truly dangerous stretch 4, and that’s Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. If the Grizz can avoid the Mavericks in the playoffs, they can go traditional ball all throughout the playoffs. And, to be honest, the Grizzlies would probably just keep their two bigs out there anyway. They have such a strong sense of identity that they will usually force other teams to adjust to them. Weather the storm on defense with someone switching onto the shooter and then turning around to power the small-ball 4 on the other side of the floor.
If anything makes the Grizzlies lineup unusual, its employing Tony Allen at the 3, a position usually reserved for scoring animals, or at least space-the-floor 3 point shooters. I know Allen basically provides this team’s hustle and grit, and can lock down the other team’s best player, but there were moments last night when Klay Thompson sagged so far off Allen in the corner that the Dubs had three bodies in the paint. Not really what you want if you’re trying to score down low with Z-Bo or Gasol. The Grizzlies actually employed a crunch time lineup that included both Allen and Tayshaun Prince, which allowed the Warriors to ruthlessly double team Gasol, which is scary in a playoff scenario. Of course, right after I’d written that Allen shut me the hell up by grabbing Gasol’s miss and tipping in the offensive board by virtue of his being totally alone.
And speaking of offensive rebounding and second chance opportunities, Zach Randolph is one of the league leaders in 2nd chance points. This has coincided with his gradual downgrade to Memphis’ third option on offense as Marc Gasol shoots the lights out and Mike Conley continues to develop into the league’s most underrated PG (sorry Jeff Teague). Their shooting and scoring allows Z-Bo to do what he’s best at. Establish position deep in the paint. So deep that he barely needs to leave the floor to tip in their misses. Its a pretty effective way to use of him, especially because he’s too slow to get back in transition anyways, and is ensuring this be a dominant rebounding team on both sides of the floor. Chewing up the Glass. Grrrr.
Not gonna write a whole column about this, didn’t watch much of the game. The Kings are just straight bad without Demarcus Cousins and the Thunder are picking up steam. Not much of a contest.
BUT THIS HAPPENED. Rudy Gay, a few days after calling Kendrick Perkins “A Clown”, just YAMMING in Serge Ibaka’s grill. God, I wish Cousins could’ve played this one. Would’ve been such a better game.
Speaking of better games, where has Darren Collison gone? Homeboy looks completely invisible on the floor. In fact, if he weren’t on my fantasy team, I doubt I would’ve even known he was playing. I know Collison was brought on for his defense and to be more of a distributor and set-up man for Gay and Cousins than a creator, but with Cousins gone the Sacramento offense has reaaallly suffered and turned into a lot of Gay isolations and weird Jason Thompson shots. I would’ve loved to see Collison step up a little bit more in his absence and score more than 6 points (!!!) when his team is desperate for a win.