The Golden State Warriors barely faced any adversity throughout the season, routinely punishing opponents and not dealing with many key injuries. That adversity finally came in the form of a gritty Memphis Grizzlies team in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Grizzlies were the team that had the size and style that could potentially be the foil to Golden State, and after three games, the Warriors looked like they were in some trouble. Down 2-1 with Game 4 on the road, the title favorite was on the ropes and facing the biggest test of its season.
Needless to say, Golden State passed that test with flying colors, reaffirming its status as the championship favorite thanks to a lot of Stephen Curry, a lot of three-pointers and a lot of defense. The Warriors won the last three games handily by an average of 16.7 points, recalling the dominance of their regular season to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
It all starts with Curry, who shot 15-of-40 overall and 4-of-21 from three in the losses in Games 2 and 3. It seemed like the hounding defense of Tony Allen and Mike Conley had gotten to Curry, because when does Stephen Curry ever go 4-of-21 from three in a two-game span?
But Curry proved why he was the MVP in the last three games of the series. He averaged 27.7 points and 6.7 assists in Games 4-6, and while he shot “only” 43.4 percent overall, he made 18-of-35 from long range. It certainly helped that Allen was slowed by a hamstring injury and either didn’t play or was ineffective, but credit Curry for snapping out of those shooting doldrums and sparking the Warriors when they needed it most.
Speaking of those three-point shots, Golden State simply took a hammer to Memphis in that department. Charles Barkley always yammers on about post play and how you can’t win by shooting so many jumpers, but the Warriors did just that. Those last three games, Golden State made 43 three-pointers, while the Grizzlies made only 12. That’s a 129-36 point differential on three-pointers in three games.
It’s hard to win games when you’re getting burned like that from the outside, no matter how good your inside game is. And unfortunately for Memphis, it’s inside game wasn’t close to good enough, and part of the reason for that was Golden State’s elite defense. Despite the Grizzlies’ size and the Warriors’ penchant for shooting jumpers, Memphis only outscored Golden State in the paint by 16 points over the last three games. The Grizzlies did have a significant free throw advantage in Game 6, but not in Games 4 and 5.
The presence of Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green makes it tough for anybody to score inside, even though Green is undersized. Throw in the length and athleticism of players like Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and the Warriors are just a nightmare to go up against. Memphis found that out the hard way, shooting under 40 percent in each of the last three games of the series.
Looking ahead, the Warriors will be the favorite in the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals if they get there. The Los Angeles Clippers would seem to pose the stiffer challenge in the West Finals, but the Clippers first need to avoid one of the bigger collapses in NBA playoff history. LeBron James could be waiting in the NBA Finals, but his Cleveland Cavaliers are hobbled and would likely prove no match for Golden State.
Championship teams usually face some kind of adversity on the way to a title, and it’s normally good for them. Not every team can be the 72-win Chicago Bulls. The Warriors finally faced that adversity, and they got past it looking like a team on a way to a title.