“Be quick, but don’t hurry.” Just one of John Wooden’s myriad insightful quotes, it aptly describes how Memphis seized Game 3 against Golden State, and a 2-1 edge in the series along with it.
While the hallmarks of Game 2 were Tony Allen‘s smothering defense and Mike Conley‘s huge shot-making, Saturday night’s Game 3 was memorable for Memphis altering the rules of engagement. Gone are the Showtime Warriors, not exactly arrogant, but their confidence all season showing in their flair and style. In their place are a first-time favorite visibly feeling that flow constricted by a suffocating defense.
Stephen Curry shot just 2-10 from long range in the loss. We know that won’t happen again … except that’s what we said after his 2-11 output in Game 2. Now everything is on the table, because all of these missed open shots from the Warriors aren’t simple random variance. They’re seeing fewer good looks, which in turn increases the urgency on them when they’re available or created. As for Curry’s backcourt mate, Klay Thompson rebounded with 20 points on 13 shots, though he went just 1-4 at the line and still looks terrified of Allen.
Upon Conley’s return to the court (more amazing: that Conley immediately played so well or that he returned at all?), Memphis morphed into the worst nightmare for Golden State, considering they have great, committed defenders at both guard positions. The Warriors are finding that hard to counter because they don’t have much firepower otherwise. As noted in other Warriors recaps, their offensive potency comes from their teamwork, their passing, their pace.
Harrison Barnes was the only other Warrior in double figures, providing a much-needed 16 points in 41 minutes. Draymond Green was 1-8, throwing in five turnovers. Andre Iguodala continues to fail at making opponents pay for leaving him open. After an aberrational 7-15 in Game 1, not coincidentally a Golden State blowout, the supporting cast was 3-9 from three-point land on Tuesday and 1-10 on Saturday (Green 1-6, Iguodala 0-3, Barnes 0-1), which added to their 11-43 line from the New Orleans series makes them 22-77 (28.6 percent) in the postseason. The Warriors were 6-26 from three on Saturday, while Memphis was 5-16. The Warriors aren’t as much of a “live by the three, die by the three” team as the common narrative suggests, but they certainly aren’t taking four out of seven if forced to outmuscle Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Speaking of those Grizzlies bigs, Gasol was marvelous in the first half, posting 16 and 10 in over 20+ minutes. He would go just 1-8 after the break, but Randolph took the torch from there with a 6-7, 14-point second half, supplemented by a massive Courtney Lee three to halt a 21-4 Warriors run that had gotten them within four at 88-84 and Gasol’s lone field goal of the half, a miracle turnaround bank shot. (Initially ruled a three before the refs ruled his foot was on the line.) Golden State’s last gasp fell short when Green capped off a poor performance with a turnover in transition at 93-88 and just over a minute remaining.
The Warriors’ body of work tells us a better performance is in there somewhere. A return to form in Game 4 would get the series heavily in their favor again, and anyone doubting they’re capable of bouncing back is foolish. That said, it’s no lock either, not because they aren’t tough enough or can’t handle pressure, it’s just that we haven’t seen them do it before. All champions face adversity, from the 2008 Celtics winning Game 7s in each of the first two rounds, to the 2012 Heat coming back from the brink and erasing series deficits on the road against Indiana and Boston. Everything about Golden State’s regular season placed them in a similar echelon to teams of that caliber, and now it’s time to see if they can overcome a challenge nearly all champions must face.