Grizzlies roll early, hold on for impressive Game 3 win over Warriors

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 09: Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzliesshoots the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game three of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on May 9, 2015 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 09: Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzliesshoots the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game three of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on May 9, 2015 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The 67-win Golden State Warriors are facing serious adversity for the first time all season. Four days after a dominant Game 2 win in which they controlled the game from start to finish, the Memphis Grizzlies came out with another terrific performance to grab a 16-point halftime lead. The Warriors improved some in the second half and challenged late, but the Grizzlies never allowed their elite shooters to get comfortable and held on for a 99-89 victory at FedEx Forum. Memphis now holds a 2-1 lead heading into Monday's Game 4, when Golden State will need a win to avoid facing elimination in as many as three straight games.

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The Warriors opened Game 3 looking in better shape than they did in the previous contest, although not in a way that showed up on the score sheet. After looking extremely rushed any time they tried to push the pace in Game 2, Golden State managed to get open looks early by stretching the Memphis defense in the halfcourt and transition. Unfortunately, very few of those quality shots went down as the Warriors shot just 9-of-23 from the field and 1-of-7 from three-point range in the first quarter. MVP Stephen Curry shot just 2-of-7 in the period with three open misses from deep in an emblematic showing that points to the way this series has shifted for the team with arguably the best collection of shooters in NBA history. Four turnovers led to seven Grizzlies points to exacerbate the problem. It's unfamiliar territory for the Warriors, and they're not responding well. The looks aren't going down, and it's affecting everything they do on offense.

Of course, the poor shooting is not just random variance, because the Grizzlies have done a phenomenal job of getting the Warriors out of their comfort zone in these last two games. That became especially clear in the second quarter, when Memphis turned their 23-20 advantage after one into a budding blowout by the halftime break. The Warriors stumbled to 39 first-half points for the second straight game (after having just one such first half all regular season) as the Grizzlies forced players into tentative or rushed decisions. Tony Allen continued his end-to-end harassment of Klay Thompson (although he was decent with 10 points on 4-of-8 FG in the first half) and Curry was hassled into four turnovers and 12 points on 13 attempts thanks to regular trapping and good one-on-one defense from Mike Conley. Worse yet, no one else stepped up as the stars struggled to score. After coming into the series with an apparent matchup advantage against the slow-of-foot Zach Randolph, power forward Draymond Green shot of 0-of-4 from the field. The bench was equally bad — Andre Iguodala missed all four of his shots as the Grizzlies gladly gave him open outside looks, while Mareese Speights went 1-of-4 without much of an impact.

All those missed shots and turnovers allowed the Grizzlies to score in transition against very scattered defense. Memphis turned nine first-half turnovers (seven of them steals) into 15 points at the other end and continually got the ball inside early in the offense on their way to 34 points in the paint. Marc Gasol took over with 16 points (5-of-9 FG and 6-of-6 FT) with a fluid, decisive showing in the post and mid-range, but every player but Allen scored at least four points in the first half in a balanced display that yielded 22-of-46 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 carefully chosen three-pointers. The Grizzlies went into the break up 55-39, but it seemed like a more insurmountable margin after six straight quarters of holding the upper hand.

Apparently sensing the extent of the damage, the Warriors came out in the second half with a clear sense of purpose. They got quality shots and buckets for Thompson (a two) and Green (a three) on their first two possessions and swarmed the Grizzlies on defense to hold them to just five points in the opening four minutes. Just like that, an untenable situation was made much more tolerable, and a Curry three at the 7:45 mark cut the Memphis lead to 60-54.

So, naturally, the Warriors scored only two points over the next 3:40. Thompson and center Andrew Bogut each picked up his fourth foul around the halfway point of the quarter, and the Grizzlies capitalized with terrific defense as instant-offense reserve Leandro Barbosa did absolutely nothing of value. Their offensive execution left them at around the same time as Gasol scuffled to a rough second half (1-of-8 FG, 3-of-4 FT), but Randolph scored 10 of his team-high 22 points in the third to keep the scoring at a reasonable level. The early attempt at a comeback dissipated into virtually nothing, and the Grizzlies entered the fourth having dropped just one point over the quarter.

Yet the Warriors had one last charge left in them, although it came via an unexpected source. Referees began to call a physical game much tighter in the fourth, and Golden State benefited with 18 free throw attempts (plus one wiped out by a lane violation). While the Warriors missed six of those shots (with several coming from typically good shooters), regular trips to the line allowed them to avoid the Grizzlies' halfcourt defense while simultaneously setting their own defense at the other end. The game slowly turned to the visitors' favor, and a contest that once looked hopeless was suddenly within reach.

In keeping with the trends of the past two games, though, the Warriors missed several open shots and turned it over for free points in transition. An Iguodala and-one lay-up with 1:45 remaining fouled out Gasol and cut the margin to 93-88. A subsequent stop appeared to give the Warriors a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Green, who played rushed all game, pushed the ball too fast against transition pressure and turned it over. Allen finished a lay-up to make it a seven-point game, after which Curry missed another open three. Mike Conley, quiet on offense most of the night after his excellent return from injury in Game 2, served up the dagger with another lay-up over defenders at the rim.

Depending on your point of view, the second half offered hope for both sides heading into Game 4. The Warriors can take solace from the fact that they regained some composure and held the Grizzlies offense in relative check, while Memphis will appreciate that Golden State continued to miss shots and never appeared to reach peak levels of efficiency even during their late run (they still shot an uncharacteristically poor 6-of-26 from deep). Despite the overwhelming first half, it wouldn't be crazy to think that Monday's matchup will see fewer big leads for the Grizzlies. These are two good teams, and neither is likely to fold.

However, the Warriors were elite for the majority of the season, to the point where NBA fans and analysts can be forgiven for expecting more from them than a competitive showing. The team does not appear to be avoiding the responsibility of its position — in their post-game press conferences, Steve Kerr called it a "moment of truth" and Curry said it is both "frustrating and fun." But a sense of urgency is required, because the Warriors have not looked like the team that ran through virtually all opponents, including the Grizzlies, during the regular season. They have not been able to rely on their greatest competitive advantage — Curry and Thompson hitting threes whether open or contested — and their elite defense has shown cracks. A squad that came into the postseason with no glaring weaknesses has looked quite vulnerable.

There is reason to think that the Warriors can bounce back. Golden State lost consecutive games on three occasions this regular season, and in each case they followed those brief problems with lengthy winning streaks. Nevertheless, the playoffs present a very different challenge than a tricky week in the schedule. It's time for the championship favorite to play at a higher level.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!