The majority of pre-series analysis said that the Memphis Grizzlies would have a very difficult time beating the Golden State Warriors without star point guard Mike Conley. Sunday's Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup did little to disabuse anyone of that notion.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
The No. 1 seed Warriors carried over the success of their first-round sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans with a 101-86 victory over the Grizzlies at Oracle Arena. Golden State used hot shooting to build an early lead and amped up the defensive pressure on Memphis in the second half to stay in firm control. The Warriors led by double digits for all but a few seconds after the halftime break and look to able to win several key matchups for at least as long as Conley is out recovering from facial surgery.
The most anticipated one-on-one matchup of the series defined the first quarter. Warriors power forward Draymond Green appeared to have a major advantage on offense against his much slower Grizzlies counterpart Zach Randolph. Golden State managed to expose him very quickly as Green knocked down 3-of-4 three-pointers and 4-of-5 shots overall for 11 points in the first quarter alone. That performance led an explosive period in which the Warriors shot 13-of-20 from the field (with 11 assists) and 4-of-9 from beyond the arc for 32 points. It was the Grizzlies worst nightmare come to life — Golden State spread the floor, exploited its versatility, and got the quality shooting necessary to punish the visitors.
The problem for the hosts was that Memphis shot nearly as well. While Randolph was not guarded by the smaller Green at the other end, he quickly established himself as the Grizzlies' best offensive option on the day via post-ups and mid-range jumpers. If not for six turnovers, the Grizzlies could have matched the Warriors. Instead, they settled for 11-of-21 shooting (with eight assists) and a seven-point deficit.
The second quarter played out much the same as the first, although the Grizzlies saw no further turnovers to avoid a truly problematic halftime score. The Warriors continued to rely on their shooting to cover for any mistakes, knocking down 24-of-39 shots (or 61.5 percent) and 8-of-16 threes in the half. Likely MVP Stephen Curry led the way with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting but was far from the only player to perform well — virtually every Warrior did something to yield that terrific percentage. At the same time, the team's league-best defense was not there, and the general story of the half was sloppy play salvaged by the best collection of shooters in the NBA. The Grizzlies continued to get good shots against the league's best defense, shooting just over 50 percent (20-of-39 FG) and converting at the free throw line (10-of-12 FT). Randolph (16 points on 7-of-9 FG) and Marc Gasol (11 points on 5-of-6 FT) led the way with strong interior scoring, but Courtney Lee and Tony Allen also contributed to the offense to provide some balance. While the 61-52 halftime score wasn't exactly a positive for the Grizzlies, it was possible to imagine a comeback given their quality offense and the Warriors' unsustainable shooting percentage.
Golden State did see their offense dip in the second half, but it was irrelevant given the defensive job they did on Memphis. The Grizzlies scored just 34 points total over the final 24 minutes, including 14 in the effectively game-ending third quarter. The Warriors deserve a great deal of the credit after improving their rotations and locking down key players, but it was at this point that the loss of Conley proved especially difficult to withstand. The Memphis roster is starved for outside shooting even with its regular point guard, and their lineups in Game 1 were simply too one-dimensional with non-shooters Tony Allen and Nick Calathes occupying spots in the starting lineup. Both performed well at the defensive end — Allen also became the villain of the Oracle crowd after walking through a children's dance routine in the first half — but it's hard to see how the Grizzlies can keep up with such a talented team while sacrificing so much at one end. Conley also would have helped to stabilize the offense and help get it out of its second-half doldrums. It's not clear if he can return for Tuesday's Game 2, and it's fair to expect similar results if he's in street clothes yet again.
That's largely because the Warriors are a team that can win convincingly without playing close to their best game. This one was not close — Golden State led by double digits from the 11:10 mark of the third until the final buzzer and built the lead to as many as 20 — but it's not as if anyone played well outside of his capabilities. Curry finished with a game-high 22 points but was limited throughout by Allen and Calathes, only really putting together a top-level run with two triples on consecutive possessions near the end of the first half. Klay Thompson (18 points on 8-of-16 FG) was also pretty good, but the team's successes in Game 1 were largely due to solid performances from the deepest roster still alive in the postseason. Harrison Barnes was perhaps the best example, scoring 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting while chipping in elsewhere and playing good defense at the other end. But there was also backup big Marreese Speights (10 points on 4-of-6 FG), Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, and plenty of other reserves who contributed just enough to ensure that the Warriors wouldn't hit any real rough patch.
Curry and Thompson get most of the publicity, but the Warriors are a formidable opponent in large part because they have no glaring weaknesses and and steamroll the opposition with game-killing runs. This win was a product of the latter. Who knows what will happen when they manage to reach peak explosiveness, too?
- - - - - - -