The first Western Conference Semifinals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies will begin on Sunday. Let’s take a look at the series.
HOW THE WARRIORS GOT HERE
After a 67-15 campaign, Golden State somehow concurrently dominated and struggled in a sweep over New Orleans. Stephen Curry, he of the second chance three in the corner to send Game 3 into overtime, and Draymond Green were outstanding, overcoming a spotty-at-times bench, as well as a talented but oddly constructed Pelicans roster that presented an equal amount of challenges for themselves as it did opponents. When the Pellies fielded a bench-heavy lineup, the Warriors carved them up, but when both teams utilized their best lineups, New Orleans held up surprisingly well, presenting questions as to how the top seed in the West will fare against more seasoned playoff foes, along with whether those causes for concern matter all that much considering a less-than-stellar quality of play still saw them advance in a sweep.
WARRIORS KEY FACTORS
1. Getting more out of their ancillary playmakers
At times in the Pelicans series, Curry was Golden State’s only off-the-dribble creator. Klay Thompson is kind of like a big receiver in the NFL, where the offense has to scheme a bit to help him get separation. He can get to the basket if given a head start off screens or some other type of movement within the offense, but by himself, he’s not great at breaking down a defense. The other concerning part of their offense was that Curry and Thompson were their only long range threats. Andre Iguodala was unable to make the Pelicans pay for leaving him open, Harrison Barnes only attempted seven triples in the series and Green’s mere 6-17 from beyond the arc was right in line with his season and career percentages. In the four games against New Orleans, non-Splash Brothers were 4-10, 3-13, 1-11 and 3-9 from downtown, which is 11-43 in total and just 25.6 percent.
2. Taking care of business
The Warriors are the overwhelming favorite in this series, just as they were in Round 1. However, the Grizzlies present a unique challenge in that they are one of the few “power” teams remaining in the league. If Golden State had only managed a split down in New Orleans, they could have just finished off the series back in Oracle. Let this series linger and the Warriors risk Green wearing down going against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, hurting their chances in future series.
HOW THE GRIZZLIES GOT HERE
In a battle between two wounded teams, Memphis, despite the lack of floor general Mike Conley for part of the series, prevailed over Portland in five games. In relief of Conley, Beno Udrih had a big Game 1 and Nick Calathes picked up the slack from there. A slew of injuries decimated the Blazers, who just didn’t have anywhere to turn, especially with a poor shooting series from impending free agent LaMarcus Aldridge and a slew of defensive breakdowns courtesy of Damian Lillard.
GRIZZLIES KEY FACTORS
1. A healthy Mike Conley
While everyone wants to come up with something unique to say, it’s simple for Memphis: no Conley, no chance. Conley will travel to Oakland for the first two games of the series, but his status remains up in the air.
2. Playing the long game
Much like San Antonio has to done to Chris Paul, the Grizzlies are likely better off forcing Curry into being a scorer. Golden State is at its most dangerous on possessions like this:
As mentioned, the Warriors aren’t abundant in creators, but they’re overflowing with willing and capable passers. The best way to break them down is to force them to play more as individuals, as opposed to a cohesive unit. The Grizzlies are unlikely to steal one of the opening games on the road, especially under the assumption Conley isn’t in uniform, so that gives them extra incentive to play the long game in Games 1 and 2, and try to wear Curry down. Force him to carry the load on offense, while also making life as miserable as possible for him on defense, and Memphis may stand a chance in the long run.
The Grizzlies will fall prey to neither the Game 3 collapse nor the Game 4 lack-of-belief blowout seen from the Pelicans. However, it’s hard to see them turning this into a series in which the outcome is legitimately up in the air. With or without Conley, this appears to be a clear-cut five game series and one where it seems highly unlikely Memphis can win more than two games.