Golden State responds like a champion
Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson, usually as mild-mannered as they come, had just gotten ejected arguing with the refs over a call that would have no effect on the outcome, when All-Star point guard Ja Morant began his early exit.
He first limped to the sideline during a timeout, then eventually walked behind the Warriors bench and back to the locker room as Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins waved the white flag. But just before Morant crossed the threshold separating the court from the inner hallways of the Chase Center, Klay Thompson pulled up for another 3-pointer.
Whether that swish was intended to be symbolic or not, it sure felt like a message. Golden State is an unrelenting obstacle, and the Grizzlies experienced the full force of it.
Now comes a test that will determine whether Memphis has met its match, whether the three-time champion trying for another one is too much for this rising group of players who believe they're ready to contend for a title before anyone else did.
The Grizzlies are in the same position they were in the first round, down 2-1 in their series with Golden State after an emphatic Warriors performance. But this is also, very clearly, a challenge unlike any Memphis has faced during the Morant era.
Golden State reminded anyone watching, with its determination and its decision-making, of all the different times it has faced these pivotal playoff moments during this decade-long run with Steph Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green.
The Warriors had to strike back after an emotional Game 2 loss, and they delivered a resounding blow. The avalanche arrived a little later than expected, but the Grizzlies eventually had no answer for this snowball.
Memphis could not get a meaningful stop, as Golden State shot better than 70% from the floor well into the third quarter. Thompson, Curry, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, and really anyone who touched the ball, seemed to find their stroke.
Memphis, meanwhile, was too often a one-man show once again, with Morant piling up 34 points that hardly made a dent in the deficit after halftime. His exploits disguised some of the Grizzlies' in Game 2. They weren't nearly enough to answer the deluge Golden State put together Saturday, and the seriousness of Morant's injury will be the biggest storyline heading into Game 4 on Monday night.
But the spotlight and pressure now sit squarely on Memphis. The Warriors showed the Grizzlies just how much they'll have to conjure up to take them out. If Memphis can't respond in kind, if Morant is limited moving forward, control of this series is likely to slip away for good.
A misleading start
The first half showcased the Grizzlies' resilience, but also their imperfections.
Everybody assumed, after an emotional opening two games, that it would be Golden State that came out with one of its signature 3-point barrages now that the series had switched to San Francisco. Instead, it was the Grizzlies who began Saturday dropping shots in from all over the court.
Their first six field goals were 3-pointers, and the open outside shots Golden State wanted Memphis to take continued to boost its offense.
But then the Warriors went to a 1-2-2 zone defense, which was both a stunning admission of how few answers they have to Morant’s penetration and a momentum-swinging move. The Grizzlies’ halfcourt offense bogged down after the first six minutes of the game, and Golden State methodically grabbed control of the game.
Memphis missed all but one of its final nine shots to close the first quarter and its five reserves (Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, John Konchar, Anderson and Brandon Clarke) started the game 2-of-11 from the field. Jenkins is faced with a crucial adjustment heading into Game 4 because Golden State’s zone proved very effective in forcing the wrong Memphis players into taking shots.
No Dillon Brooks or Steven Adams
The Grizzlies got through most of Game 2 without Dillon Brooks largely because Golden State missed shots it doesn’t often miss, rookie Ziaire Williams provided enough reinforcements and Morant took over late.
His absence, the result of a one-game suspension for an excessive flagrant foul on Golden State’s Gary Payton II, loomed much larger in Game 3. The Warriors shredded the Memphis defense Saturday, knifing into the lane almost at will using the pick-and-roll, creating wide open looks with their signature ball movement.
Perhaps Golden State was just due for a performance like this after a historically bad shooting display in Game 2. But Brooks is also the Grizzlies’ best perimeter defender, the player charged with defending Curry in this series, and a useful secondary solution when Memphis is struggling in its halfcourt sets.
That controversial flagrant foul finally caught up to Memphis Saturday.
Steven Adams, meanwhile, was in uniform and available for the Grizzlies, but Jenkins chose not to use him until late in the fourth quarter during garbage time. It will certainly be a topic of discussion ahead of Game 4 after Golden State again won the rebounding battle over a Memphis team that was supposed to have an advantage in that area heading into the series.
Going small should work better with Brooks available to balance out the lineup. But after the way Golden State torched Memphis, Adams could be the change of pace these Grizzlies need now they’ve reached another crossroads in this postseason run.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Golden State Warriors show Memphis Grizzlies how a champion responds