The Warriors were the better team in this series, which only makes sense as they were the best team in the entire league all season. Odds are that they would have stemmed the tide, made a run of their own anyway and finished the series. However, Golden State’s 108-95 Game 6 win to advance to the Western Conference Finals can’t be discussed without wondering about a blown call at the end of the third quarter to stonewall all the comeback momentum Memphis had been building.
They needed a comeback because the Warriors opened the game with their full arsenal. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each hit a trio of triples in the first quarter, each scoring 11 points in the frame. Throw in Harrison Barnes attacking Zach Randolph in space and Golden State led 32-19 heading into the second.
Memphis continued its offensive woes, shooting 17-47 (36.2 percent) in the first half compared to 25-42 (59.5 percent) for Golden State, but made up for that by not turning the ball over and getting to the line. Aided by Golden State’s shooting regressing (0-6 in the second quarter from downtown) and a Courtney Lee in-and-out-and-in buzzer-beater, the Grizz trimmed the lead to a manageable nine going into the locker room.
Tony Allen gave it a go after missing Game 5 with a hamstring injury and was only able to provide five and a half minutes, but Memphis found more space on offense without him. Slowly (as if these Grizz would have it any other way) but surely, the lead that was once 15 was back within one possession. Mike Conley missed a three at 63-60 that would have tied it. Then, after he had cut the deficit to one, and then again back to one on the next possession, Jeff Green was unable to knock down a triple for his team’s first lead of the game.
Down by five as the third quarter came to a close, Green raced down the court and appeared to draw a shooting foul, but the whistle stayed silent, Curry grabbed the loose ball and did this:
That one-two punch left the ever-ferocious Memphis crowd in a stunned silence. Golden State started the fourth with five consecutive scoring possessions and built its lead all the way back up to 15. Back-to-back Curry threes with under five minutes to go effectively ended the comeback, if nothing else because the Grizzlies couldn’t hit threes at all in the series.
It was a valiant effort by the resilient Grizzlies, but they just lacked the firepower to hang with the Splash Brothers, let alone when ancillary Warriors like Andre Iguodala (3-6 on threes, seven assists) showed up as well.
The officials let Memphis be physical all night and, as Marc Gasol said postgame, the Curry three was only three points and sometimes things like that happen in basketball, but any neutral observer hated to see that bang-bang officiating-fueled reversal to end the third. While momentum is a very fringy concept, it’s hard to deny that it took the winds out of the Grizzlies’ sails.
Without knowing who the Warriors will face, it’s unclear whether Golden State’s next opponent has a better chance to upset them. Just a couple days ago, the Clippers looked poised to rekindle a bitter rivalry with the Warriors on the largest stage possible. Now they have to win a Game 7 in Houston to even get there. Regardless of who wins that series, no team will pose a bigger challenge for the Warriors than Memphis. Their experience, their toughness and their physicality have served as a rite of passage for the recent Western powers, considering the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs have all battled them this decade.
That said, it’s the Warriors who were victorious, and the headlines go to the winners. (Well, unless it’s LeBron.) Facing a possible 3-1 series deficit and the weight of expectation, they answered the bell, getting back to the loose and entertaining brand of ball that earned them the No. 1 seed, led by Curry, who delivered a playoff career-high eight threes en route to 32 points in this series clincher. They’ll need the coming rest days to recover, but the Grizzlies are ultimately the best thing that could have happened to the Warriors, who enter the Western Conference Finals as the undisputed and prohibitive title favorite.