The armchair feedback for the Warriors after losing back-to-back games and falling behind 2-1 to the Grizzlies seemed to recommend that they focus on precision rather than flash, to eliminate the careless turnovers and give themselves a precious extra couple of possessions against a ferocious defense. In their most important game of the season, and the first that approached anything close to a must-win, they responded instead by playing exactly the opposite, embracing the best elements of their style of play and reclaimed home-court advantage in the process with a 101-84 Game 4 victory.
MVP Stephen Curry was the tone-setter, starting out in facilitator mode rather than looking for his own shot. The strategy worked as it helped to reinvigorate the passing-oriented brilliance of Golden State’s offense. After just four field goals and one three-pointer in the last two games combined, Draymond Green was 4-6 in the first quarter alone, including 2-3 from beyond the arc. Harrison Barnes missed a couple threes as well as a dunk, but he was active and had six points in the first quarter on 3-7 from the floor.
Rather than watch Curry and Klay Thompson try to single-handedly shake their respective defenders, often Mike Conley and Tony Allen, this was a group effort. Aided by an adjustment to have Andrew Bogut “guard” Allen, the Warriors were able to get loose in transition off Allen misses, as even wide open he’s an awful shooter. Once his teammates got going, Curry joined the party, scoring 21 points by halftime on 8-14 shooting after not taking a shot until 8:30 into the game.
Golden State led 61-44 at halftime, and Memphis scored just one field goal in the first seven minutes of the third as the Warriors opened up a 26-point advantage. Golden State maintained at least a 16-point margin throughout the rest of the game, improving to 51-0 in games they claimed a 15-point lead, per the TNT broadcast.
In its two wins, Memphis had kept pace in surprisingly fast portions of the games they were controlling. Monday night though, Conley had an uncharacteristically wild game, going 4-15 from the field and failing to manipulate the flow. The combination of Golden State’s aggressive gameplan on Allen and the early deficit made him unplayable (just 15:51), Jeff Green continued to struggle and Courtney Lee scored just six points in 30 minutes.
Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger said it best in his press conference, saying that 101 points surrendered in a fast-paced game isn’t bad, but that at some point in the series they’ll have to score 100 points to win. Their supporting cast just isn’t getting the job done, and that’ll only allow the Warriors to get all the more daring in double-teaming Marc Gasol (19/10/6 on 7-19 FG) and Zach Randolph. (12 points on 10 shots and 11 boards)
As for the Warriors, their ancillary guys did contribute in Game 4. Green was 3-8 from long distance and after an abysmal playoffs thus far, Andre Iguodala went 3-5 from downtown, almost equaling the Grizzlies’ 4-18 output on his own.
With that said, this was Curry’s night. He did what stars do and imprinted himself on the game by pushing the pace. Sometimes it was costly, as he had a few messy turnovers, four of the team’s 21 in total, and got a three swatted from behind, but it was a positive overall. He was more confident, most notably on a behind-the-back pass to Green for an open three and a deep triple of his own at the end of the first quarter. Finishing with 33 points on 22 shots, eight rebounds and five assists, the most vital part of Curry’s performance was ensuring that his team embraced the showmanship and panache that led them to 67 wins, rather than hide from that in the most critical game of their season to this point.
In the Game 3 recap, I noted that Game 4 would be a fascinating look at these Warriors, simply because we hadn’t seen them in this position before. After doubling down on their identity in a dominating victory against one of the toughest and most mature teams in the league, Golden State demonstrated that its fully capable of handling the heavy burden of expectation bestowed upon a prohibitive title favorite.