The Golden State Warriors won 67 regular-season games for a reason. The Warriors were elite on both sides of the ball, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson juicing up a quick-strike offensive attack while Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut anchored the league’s best defense. They were one of the most dominant regular-season teams in recent memory, racking up an insane +10.1 average point differential and a 39-2 record at Oracle Arena.
Through the first five games of the playoffs, not all that much changed. Golden State won its first five playoff games, and with Mike Conley‘s face broken and other key players suffering injuries throughout the postseason, it looked like the Warriors were going to waltz to a championship. It just seemed inevitable.
Then Conley came back and sparked the Grizzlies to a stunning victory in Game 2 at Oracle, just the third game the Warriors had lost at home all year. With the series shifting to The Grindhouse, Memphis had the momentum and a rabid crowd behind it to possibly do the unthinkable: Go up 2-1 in the series against the 67-win juggernaut and title favorite. But certainly Curry wouldn’t go 2-of-11 from three again, right? But certainly the Warriors’ offense wouldn’t be shut down for a second straight game, right?
Well, that’s exactly what happened as the Grizzlies stymied Golden State in Game 3, 99-89.
Memphis’ defense was in fine form again, frustrating Curry and his teammates into another slew of bad misses and turnovers. Curry went 2-of-10 from three as the Warriors shot 6-of-26 from three for the second consecutive game. Thompson rebounded from an awful Game 2 to have a strong game and went 3-of-6 from three, meaning non-Thompson Warriors went 3-of-20 from three. Even Thompson had his own case of the yips, though, as he went 1-of-4 from the free throw line, including two key misses late.
The Grizzlies’ first-half performance was a thing of beauty, even if their style of play isn’t always the most aesthetically pleasing. Memphis held Golden State to 38.1 percent shooting and 2-of-13 from long range in the half. The Warriors turned the ball over nine times, which turned into 15 points for Memphis. The Grizzlies pounded the ball in the paint (34-16 points in the paint advantage) and attacked the offensive boards (13-6 advantage in second chance points) to build up a 55-39 halftime lead. It was a systematic beating, with Memphis using its signature gritty style of play to get Golden State out of its rhythm and into trouble.
The Warriors made several pushes in the second half, but a late Green turnover, his fifth of the game, sealed the game. The play capped off a rough performance from Green, who scored just six points on 1-of-8 shooting overall and 1-of-6 from three. Meanwhile, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds. If the Grizzlies were going to compete (or even win this series), this was how it would have to happen. And right now, it’s happening.
The Warriors haven’t faced much adversity this season, and now the league’s best team is staring at a Game 4 on the road that’s essentially a must win. The pressure will be on, and we’ll see if the MVP can break out of his slump when his team needs him most. Knocking down some open shots would be a good start, as Curry is just 5-of-15 on uncontested shots over the last two games after going 3-of-9 on Saturday, according to SportVU. Of course, it must also be noted that 25 of Curry’s 40 shots the last two games have been contested, as the Grizzlies’ defense has made it a point to swarm the MVP and get him out of his comfort zone. It has certainly worked:
But it’s not like Curry is the only one who needs to play better. Green is 4-of-19 over the last two games. Bogut hasn’t been all that effective. Andre Iguodala can’t make any open jumpers. The bench in general was awful in Game 3, and Steve Kerr will likely turn to David Lee for a spark in Game 4 against the bigger Grizzlies, especially with Marreese Speights injured and set to miss a week. Lee has only played nine minutes in this series and didn’t play in Game 3.
The Warriors won 67 regular-season games for a reason. They’re really freaking good. Now facing some real adversity, we’ll get to see what Golden State is made of with its back against the wall.