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The Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors will duel in San Francisco for the second time in six days, this time with higher stakes than the previous meeting, when the Western Conference play-in tournament comes to a conclusion on Friday night.
By virtue of Memphis' 100-96 home win over 10th-seeded San Antonio, plus Golden State's 103-100 road loss to the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of play-in games on Wednesday, the Grizzlies and Warriors will go head-to-head one final time with the eighth playoff spot at stake.
Friday's winner will advance to a first-round series with the top-seeded Utah Jazz. That series is scheduled to open Sunday in Salt Lake City.
The Warriors earned the right to have to lose twice in the play-in tournament to be denied a playoff berth by beating the Grizzlies 113-101 last Sunday. The teams had entered the contest with 38-33 records, putting the coveted eighth seeding in the play-in bracket on the line.
Stephen Curry burned the visitors for 46 points to clinch the NBA scoring title, but the Warriors also got key offensive contributions from Andrew Wiggins (21 points), Jordan Poole (15) and Draymond Green (14).
On Wednesday night, Wiggins complemented Curry's 37 points against the Lakers with 21, but Poole (10) and Green (two) were part of a supporting cast that combined to shoot just 15-for-42 (35.7 percent) in Los Angeles.
The Grizzlies had no such issues against the Spurs, with Ja Morant providing 20 points as a third option behind Dillon Brooks' 24 and Jonas Valanciunas' 23.
Brooks had 18 points in Sunday's loss at Golden State, and he'd done solid defensive work on Curry before fouling out.
When Brooks left the game with 6:12 to go, the Grizzlies trailed just 93-91. At that point, Curry had 30 points while on the court at the same time as the Memphis defensive ace, but he had struggled in shooting (11-for-27) and was harassed into five of his seven turnovers.
The league's leading scorer then exploded with Brooks on the bench, nailing three straight 3-pointers as part of scoring 11 points in the final 3:17 to help Golden State pull away.
While no rematch was assured after Sunday's outcome, both Brooks and Curry spoke afterward about how they could do better the next time around.
"The most challenging thing about guarding him is that they look for him every single possession," observed Brooks, who led the NBA in fouls in the regular season with 237. "I shouldn't have got a couple cheap (fouls) and just like stay in the game. That's just my learning curve. I never back down from a challenge."
Curry attempted 36 shots in the game, including a career-high 22 3-pointers.
"Love the way the game finished. Obviously, happy those last few went in and we opened the game up," he said. "You start to look at the body of work throughout the course of the game, and you miss some easy ones, and those are the ones you remember a little bit more, which is kind of natural, striving for perfection in that respect. That's always the first instinct: How can you play better?"
--Field Level Media